Northeast Regional Health Office working to vaccinate despite limited, but improving, supply

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Officials with the Northeast Regional Health Office are working to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible, but their efforts have been hampered by a lack of supply.

But, Medical Director Dr. David Kirschke says supply is starting to pick up as vaccine shipments become more regular.

“It was frustrating last week because we did not get the vaccine we expected to get, so we weren’t able to have as many vaccination clinics,” Kirschke said. “But vaccine supply, this week, has picked up.”

On Friday, the state updated its online vaccination scheduling website and posted a new video explaining the registration process for users.

However, Kirschke says his office is still vaccinating those who signed up using the former system.

“There is a new registration system called SignUpGenius that everyone is using. People being vaccinated right now may or may not be signed up through that,” Kirschke said. “We’re still vaccinating a lot of people from the old system, which was Eventbrite.”

Despite the limited supply of vaccines, Northeast Tennessee has continued to exceed the state average vaccination rate. Through Monday, Northeast Tennessee had vaccinated 27,222 people, or 5.38 percent of its population according to the state health department. That’s more than the statewide rate of 3.44 percent.

“We give out everything we get in as fast as we’re getting it,” Kirschke said. “As soon as it comes in the door, it goes out the door.”

The state distributes vaccines to counties based on population, although Kirschke says some counties that considered “distressed” do get extra doses. Still, he says counties are now starting to get sufficient amounts to start progressing through the phases spelled out in the state’s vaccination plan.

“We’ve requested them to send us as much as they can so it just really depends on the allocation based on the population,” Kirschke said. “So, how many total doses the state gets, gets divided up by county population and that’s what we get.”

All seven of the Northeast Regional Health Office’s counties are administering vaccines to groups 1a1, 1a2, 1b, and anyone 75 years and older.

Meanwhile, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, which is separate from Northeast Regional, is vaccinating groups 1a1, 1a2, and those 75 and older. Supply has been a concern among Sullivan County health officials too.

Kirschke says his health office has the personnel to deliver the vaccines, they just need the supply.

“Our nurses and other staff that are manning these vaccination sites are doing a great job,” he said. “They can vaccinate large numbers of people. It’s really just limitation of the vaccine supply so far that we’ve not been able to progress farther through the phases.”

And while the number of vaccines administered continued to rise, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the region has gone down and so has the number of coronavirus tests administered.

Kirschke says the decline in new cases may be connected to local health departments recently shifting their focus from administering tests to delivering vaccines.

“Testing is down at the health departments because our same nurses that are doing all the testing are the same ones doing the vaccinating, so we’ve had to decrease the amount of days we’re doing our drive through testing,” he said.

“There’s some optimistic signs, but because of less testing, it’s hard to say cases are going down.”

Kirschke said that while it’s hard to be too optimistic because numbers are still higher than they were during the surge over the summer, “the vaccine is definitely something positive.”

“We’re encouraged by the turnout we’re getting for the vaccine,” he said.

Tennesseans can county-by-county vaccination information and sign up to receive a vaccine by visiting the state health department’s website.

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