Race to get vaccinated: Knox County man heads to Scott County for COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On Thursday, Knox County Health Department leaders announced more than 10,000 people were on the waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Jim McClusky, a former pastor at Wallace Memorial Baptist Church, would have been one of those had he not been able to find a way to get the vaccine sooner.

McClusky recently turned 90 years old, and was anxious to get better protected from COVID-19.

“Obviously at my age I’m high-risk,” McClusky said.

He said that as soon as he heard the vaccine was coming to Knox County for residents 75 years and older, he was trying to get himself and his wife signed up.

“I started calling the Knox County Health Department, and I constantly got a recording, saying that they did not have the vaccine and they were not taking reservations,” McClusky said.

This was before Knox County had a waiting list.

McClusky heard about KCHD hosting its first vaccination clinic at the Expo Center, but then also found out the county had a small portion of doses for the number of people lining up that day.

“I didn’t think (my chances) looked too good,” McClusky said.

McClusky continued to try to make an appointment.

“I did keep checking. I called almost every day. And I continued to get the recording,” McClusky said.

McClusky said one day he finally talked with a ‘live person,’ and although she was very nice to him about the situation, he was told they weren’t taking reservations and they didn’t have the vaccine.

His vaccination journey wasn’t over at that point.

“I heard from a friend that he had gone to Scott County to get the shot. This was about three-and-a-half weeks ago,” McClusky said.

McClusky called the Scott County Health Department and spoke with a ‘live person’ on his first try.

“I informed her that I was not a resident of Scott County. That I lived in Knox County, and she said, ‘can’t you get a reservation there?’ And I said, ‘no.’ And she said, ‘well, I can help you,'” McClusky said.

McClusky said he called on a Monday.

He and his wife were scheduled for their first shot of the vaccine that Friday in Scott County.

“Little less than an hour drive. And we’re only there 30 minutes,” McClusky said.

McClusky said the staff even offered to vaccinate them outside, since his wife is in a wheelchair after suffering from a stroke several years ago.

He said the drive was worth it — it was scenic and a shorter time than waiting for the vaccine in Knox County.

“Now we have to go back in 10 days to get our second shot, because where you get the first one, I’m told you have to get the second one,” McClusky said.

He’s ready for that second shot, and especially for what happens after two weeks of receiving the second dose: being better protected.

“I have not being going out very much, and not in any crowded situations, but I’m looking forward doing so as soon as I feel safe,” McClusky said.

McClusky said he isn’t blaming KCHD for not having the availability.

However, he does believe a wait system should’ve been set up either before or around the same time vaccinations to the public opened up.

McClusky even called to check out the reservation system Thursday morning to see if it was in fact set up.

It was, but then he learned more than 10,000 people were on it.

He said he noticed the availability of the vaccine through other providers was also increasing, but he worried about other senior citizens who weren’t as tech savvy as he was.

“I’m familiar with it, but many of us senior adults are not comfortable online, if we can even get online,” McClusky said. However, people can sign up to be on the wait list via phone.

McClusky also felt the age group shouldn’t have opened until more people in the current open categories were vaccinated. With the expectation, he does believe teachers should have been one of the first to receive the vaccine.

While McClusky and his wife will be able to have both doses of the vaccine in 10 days, he hopes others won’t have to wait much longer.

Since he received his shot outside of Knox County, McClusky said he has had at least 10 friends go outside the county for their shots.

The Tennessee Department of Health said the following about residents going outside of their counties to receive the vaccine:

“We encourage people as much as possible to seek vaccination in their county of residence or employment, as vaccine allocations are based on county populations. However, one does not need proof of residence to receive a vaccination at one of our county health department locations.”

Tennessee Department of Health

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