Monroe Co. man shares vaccine experience, highlights struggles rural communities face

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MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — While many Tennesseans wait for their age categories to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, many eligible people throughout the state are still waiting for the first shot. In fact, Dennis Armistead described the process of getting a vaccine in a rural area as a nightmare.

It started with figuring out how to get one.

He began calling his local health department dozens of times to no avail: “There’s nothing worse than calling a number and it be busy,” he said. It made him wonder, “is it broke, are they just not answering, will I ever get through.”

Armistead then tried to make an appointment online but was put on a waiting list. A week later, he reached out to the state to get a rough idea of his place in line. He received this response: “Unfortunately, we are unable to offer an estimated wait time. We are unsure when we will receive more vaccine or how much we will receive until it is shipped to us from the Federal Government.”

That unknown timeline began to weigh on Armistead, given he’s 78 years old, living with heart and lung conditions because of contact with Agent Orange in his U.S. Navy career. “I’m a walking death warrant…if I get it there is no way I could get passed all that,” he said.

He understands the supply shortages facing the state; however, he’d like to see was more communication and transparency.

“Somebody telling me we have this number of doses, and you’re number 900 to get it or whatever, that’s fine, But to say ‘well, we don’t know when you’ll get a dose.’ That really works on you,” he added.

Simply knowing his place in line would have gone a long way to curb his anxiety. “We’ve known about this since October, November, it was coming. I don’t understand why we weren’t ready for it,” he said.

He fears the obstacles and uncertainty surrounding the vaccine will result in friends and neighbors in his rural community giving up.

“Everyone here in the rural areas seem to have the same problem. They don’t know where to go. They don’t know who to navigate,” he said. “The website is hard to navigate. A lot of people go on that and say the heck with it.”

Persistence paid off for Armistead. He received his first dose today and his second is already scheduled next month.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced Friday the state is nearing a half-million vaccinations in its first month, though there is still concern surrounding supply.

The state originally projected people 65 and older would be eligible for vaccination beginning next month. That has since been moved to March, at least. Piercey explained the federal government pledges more doses at the end of January; however, she noted supply has remained the same.

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