Blount County receives first shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Blount County Health Department received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

It’s the first shipment to East Tennessee since the FDA approved the vaccine on Friday.

Regional health officials were excited to start vaccinating first responders and other frontline workers with the new vaccine.

“Santa Claus has come. Santa is here on the 21st,” Dr. Tara Sturdivant, Medical Director for East Region of the Tennessee Department of Health, said.

Health officials said Monday was a soft roll out for administering the Moderna vaccine.

They knew the shipment was going to arrive by Wednesday, but weren’t sure exactly when they’d be delivered.

As of Monday, not all county health departments in East Tennessee had received the shipment yet.

For the first day, mostly first responders showed up to receive their shot of the Moderna vaccine at the Blount County Health Department.

Sturdivant said on Monday, and Wednesday when the first official day of administering the vaccine, the health department will be focusing on vaccinating those in the 1a1 group established by the state’s distribution plan.

That includes home care staff, COVID-19 mass testing site staff, student healthcare providers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities and first responders.

Lieutenant Richie Storie, with the Alcoa Fire Department, said he wanted to get the vaccine to keep his family and those he serves safe.

“It’s starting to affect our response with people being out of work and people working overtime. Things like that. But, we don’t want to be carrying anything from one call to another if we get infected,” Storie said.

Sturdivant said she wished more first responders signed up to get the Moderna vaccine.

She said it’s safe, and first responders would set the best example for the community.

“It’s not a live or attenuated vaccine. You can’t get the COVID virus through the vaccine and it’s really our only chance to develop herd immunity,” Sturdivant said.

Storie said he was a little nervous because the vaccine is new, but he set aside his worry so he could be better protected, and keep others better protected on his calls.

“If we can set the example of going ahead of getting the vaccine, of receiving the vaccine, then I think that shows others that it takes a little bit of the fear factor away,” Storie said.

Sturdivant said the Moderna vaccine is a game changer for local health departments.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine will be used mainly at hospitals because they can store the vaccine at the proper–extremely cold–temperatures.

Moderna can be stored in a regular freezer.

“A lot of facilities do not have ultra cold storage capacity. We don’t in our local county health departments. If we had to provide the Pfizer vaccine, um, it would be problematic for us to have to… it would be an additional expense in having to purchase, you know a cold storage facility,” Sturdivant said.

Sturdivant said the Moderna vaccine also has to be handled a special way before administering it, but those with that job have received additional training so they handle the vaccine properly.

The Moderna vial is also slightly larger than Pfizer’s vial for the vaccine, so more doses can be extracted.

Starting Wednesday, a few county health departments, including Blount County, will be administering the Moderna vaccine via drive-thru for those in the priority group.

The Tennessee National Guard will help keep the process moving along in some counties, according to state health officials.

Even with the drive-thru event, those receiving the vaccine will have to wait about 15 minutes in their car, as a precaution, before leaving.

The Moderna vaccine also requires two doses before being effective, according to Sturdivant.

She said it’s very important everyone, including those who received the vaccine, continues washing their hands often, practice social distancing, wearing a mask and staying home if sick.

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