Shelby County ran out of vaccine on Wednesday, January 6, and is awaiting information from the state when more serum arrives for local administration.
On Tuesday, 49 other counties in the state were also absent.
“We are not involved in the state’s decision on how much we receive. We implore and plead for as much as possible, as often as possible and as regularly as possible, ”said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “All we can do is try to get it.”
At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, county officials had heard nothing of the date of the next shipment or its size, forcing them to delay plans for the next mass clinics.
So far, 24,700 doses have been administered in Shelby County.
“It’s very difficult to plan if you don’t know how much vaccine you’ll get or when you’ll get it,” Harris said.
Two hours later Wednesday afternoon, the health department sent out a press release saying it was administering the last doses it received during the state’s first allocation.
“We have made several requests for more vaccines,” said Alisa Haushalter, director of the health department.
Without information, the department cannot inform the public of the opening date of the next clinics.
“When we receive an additional vaccine, we will distribute the vaccine according to the tiered criteria established by the state,” she said.
The state’s powers are based on population, although the ratio is not clear. Shelby County is one of 29 counties that meets the state’s Social Distress Index and qualifies for additional doses. The state has not said how many additional doses that would mean.
Hospitals receive separate allocations.
On Tuesday, the Methodist Hospital in Germantown had enough to start giving second doses to frontline workers who received their first doses 19 days ago.
“We order them as and when we need them, and we have had no problems so far receiving the shipments,” said Anna Lopez, director of operations.
The Methodist administers the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. Doses can be administered 19-23 days apart.
“We are going through them quickly,” Lopez said.
In December, the county set aside space at Lindenwood Christian Church, 2400 Union Ave., for two weeks to run one of two drive-thru clinics for first responders and other Category 1a1 frontline workers. Seven days later he had to shut down and use the rest of the serum for people in long-term care.
Meanwhile, Shelby County appears to be lagging behind at the bottom of the state in terms of vaccination rates, according to a state scorecard. But the numbers are misleading, according to the local health department.
“Preliminary reports from all partner agencies currently providing vaccinations indicate that approximately 24,700 people have been vaccinated in Shelby County,” Haushalter said Wednesday.
“However, not all of these vaccinations have yet been recorded in the Tennessee Department of Health’s immunization database called TennIIS.”
The dashboard, updated on Tuesdays and Fridays, currently shows Shelby County with a 1.28% vaccination rate, the second lowest in the state.
If all data were represented, the percentage would be 2.6%. The state average is 2.9%.
The State Department of Health did not immediately respond to questions about the backlog.
The state announced the dashboard on Dec. 18 as a tool to help the public see how the vaccination campaign is progressing. It breaks down immunizations statewide by day and week and includes a breakdown of the percentage of people who received the vaccine by age and ethnicity.
It also shows the percentage of vaccinated in each county. Future versions will show the number of Tennesseans who received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The dashboard also shows the number of vaccines administered in health care facilities and by public health departments, but not by county. It also does not indicate how much vaccine a county received or how long it took for it to be distributed.
Availability confirmed by the state health department varies by county.
“Counties may progress through the COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times depending on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and the interest in receiving them,” said spokesperson Bill Christian in an email.
Many state health departments began administering the vaccine on December 21. Shelby County waited until after Christmas.
About 25% of the injections on the dashboard given by statewide health departments through Jan.4 were administered before the Shelby County Health Department began administering them.
But county officials say those numbers don’t mean much if there aren’t more doses on the way.
“I just don’t know what you can do other than use the vaccine you get,” Harris said.