No appointments this week: Supply issues continue to hamper Knox County Health Department COVID-19 vaccinations

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Vaccinations are at a standstill at the Knox County Health Department as they await more doses from the state and federal government.

Charity Menefee, director of environmental and communicable disease and emergency preparedness with the Health Department, said no appointments will be taken this week as they prioritize vaccinating individuals in group homes with intellectual and mental disabilities.

“If that changes, and we are working to do everything we can, we will immediately make a public announcement through a news release and on our social media and all our online platforms,” Menefee said.

KCHD has vaccinated 4,700 people so far. To put that in perspective there are 30,000 people ages 75 and over in Knox County eligible for the vaccine right now under the state’s plan.

The department is also prioritizing the rollout of a web appointment platform and creation of more distribution points once they receive more COVID-19 vaccination doses. Menefee compared the logistical issues to the same ones the department faced when trying to get test kits early on in the pandemic.

“Even though we started off as the primary point to receive a COVID test, that is no longer the case,” she said. “Testing is now widely available in our community. We are hopeful that this will soon be the case for vaccines as well, but right now, vaccines are not widely available.

We want our community to know that if you want to get the vaccine, you will be able to get one; it just might take some time. Likely it is going to take several months to move through the phases.”

Menefee said that each county’s move through the phases will be different and Tennessee residents can get the vaccination at any county health department. The state has set up a vaccination appointment system already for counties without their own health departments.

Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Sullivan, Knox, and Hamilton counties have their own health departments, appointment systems, and vaccination efforts.

Addition of 65 and over group

The Trump administration said Tuesday it is wanting to speed delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older and to others at high risk by no longer holding back the second dose of the two-dose shots.

The administration is releasing required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply.

Menefee reiterated that supply, as well as guidance from the Tennessee Department of Health, will be a determining factor in adding to the list of eligible people for the vaccination.

“While we agree that that’s absolutely a priority population to get it, the challenge is … the supply is just not there right now,” she said. “We are concerned that that is going to going to increase as they add more people to the group.”

The current plan is to still offer the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to those in Phase 1a1, 1a2, and ages 75 and older while having enough vaccine to give those who previously received the first dose their second dose on time. That plan could change if the state decides to act on the federal guidance.

Contact tracing for schools, individuals

The Knox County Health Department is no longer doing contact tracing. Individuals that test positive are being given information on how to quarantine and given the personal responsibility to do the contact tracing themselves.

Menefee said the change will allow the Health Department to free up space for vaccinations. When asked about how this would affect the efforts of Knox County Schools to notify when teachers and students would have to quarantine, Menefee said the school system will continue to do their own contact tracing.

“For the vast majority of their cases, (KCS) already knew about them because families in Knox County and Knox County Schools’ parents and teachers were letting them know about their diagnosis or being contacts well before we were able to get that information to them through our contact tracing process,” she said.

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