KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — About 14,000 Knox County residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine according to Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan. That number includes doses administered by hospitals, long-term care facilities and the department.
During the department’s COVID-19 update on Thursday, Buchanan said supply of the vaccine remains sporadic but more doses are expected soon and will be administered as soon as they can.
The Health Department rolled out its new web-based appointment system early Thursday morning after receiving just more than 5,200 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The 975 appointments that were offered were taken within an hour.
Buchanan said the remaining doses will go to those who have already received their first dose of the vaccine to keep them on schedule.
“We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many of you out there who still want the vaccine,” she said. “We will continue to put additional opportunities out there as we receive more vaccine.”
KCHD plans to continue to have appointment-based clinics in the future after listening to requests from the public. Buchanan encouraged Knox County residents wanting to get the vaccine to remain patient and keep checking back to see when the vaccine will be available.
The Health Department’s vaccine webpage will be primary way to get an appointment. If you are unable to access the webpage and want an appointment, you are asked to call 865-215-5555 and the department will guide you through the process.
Vaccine supply issues
Getting reliable, regular doses of the vaccine has proven difficult as demand is high across the country. The federal government said earlier this week it is releasing more doses but Buchanan said that has not been the case so far.
She said states and vaccine providers don’t know how much vaccine to plan for right now. That, in turn, is making health department and hospital plans for clinics and distribution difficult.
“What’s happening practically is the federal government is telling the states … this is how much Tennessee gets,” she said, describing the complication allocation of the vaccine. “The state then … allocate(s) doses from the state level and then those doses are given out. Health departments and hospitals ask for the doses. … The state then has to decide how much of those requests get filled.
“I know that publicly the federal government is saying they’re not holding back doses but actually practically that is what is happening right now.”
Plans to move into the next phase of the state’s plan, Phase 1b, that includes school and child care employees, first responder administrators, and ages 65 and over, are still unknown at this time as a result of the logistical issues.
Buchanan also said the state is asking county health departments to stay in similar phases and not jump ahead.
KCHD has lost just one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while administering 4,000 doses. The lost dose was due to a malfunction of a syringe, Buchanan said.
“We have not had to waste a dose because we didn’t have an arm to put it in,” she said.
The Knox County Health Department has had plenty of experience preserving and avoiding vaccine loss through its multiple clinics and events in the past. Under normal circumstances the department offers flu clinics to schools yearly.
Any left over vaccine from its clinics and events is first offered to department and clinic staff that have not been able to get the vaccine. Calls are then made to employers of health care facilities, first responders and other Phase 1a1 and 1a2 qualifiers to administer remaining doses.
After releasing the department’s local benchmarks Wednesday, Buchanan gave details to the local state of the coronavirus.
The 14-day average of new cases climbed above 300 despite lower case numbers during the last couple of days. Hospitalizations and ventilator usage has also decreased but Buchanan said a couple of days of lower numbers is not a trend.
“This is not the time to say, ‘Oh, vaccines here. I don’t have to wear a mask. I don’t have to socially distance. I don’t have to limit my interactions.’,” Buchanan said.
“This is time to be really, really intentional about that. … We’ve seen a little bit of decrease (in cases). If we’re going to see that continue, everybody has to continue to practice the five core actions including those who have been vaccinated.”