JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – If Sullivan County Health Department staff are vaccinating full tilt for COVID-19, medical director Dr. Stephen May says they can complete about 1,000 jabs a day.
The department isn’t expecting anywhere near that supply next week, May said Friday morning — a day he expected the current supply to dwindle to zero.
Instead, an expected shipment of 1,200 isn’t much “for what we’re capable of doing,” May said.
It’s a similar story across Northeast Tennessee. A team approach to vaccine administration that also involves Ballad Health, pharmacies and others had the region well ahead of the state average of vaccines administered per capita per the latest available data from Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).
It’s concerning to May, who said the department has worked closely with Ballad trying to get vaccines into the arms of people 75 and over, who represent the population most likely to fall gravely ill or die from COVID-19.
“They (Ballad) got a certain amount we got a certain amount, we’re working together to get them out,” May said. He didn’t know exactly how many people over 75 had been vaccinated.
“I’ll just say not enough,” May said.
While long lines of people trying to get the vaccine, overwhelmed phone numbers and counties running out of vaccine have been familiar refrains the past couple of weeks, the data show the bad situation could be much worse.
Through Monday, the latest day TDH posted county-by-county data, Northeast Tennessee had provided first doses to 5.38 percent of its population — 27,222 people.
That figure may seem small, but it’s 56 percent higher than the statewide rate of 3.44 percent.
Washington and Sullivan counties have rates far higher than any other counties with more than 100,000 people, with Washington’s 7.02 percent ranking third among Tennessee’s 95 counties and Sullivan’s 6 percent ranking eighth.
Johnson County had the lowest rate in the region, 3.29 percent, while all other counties averages exceeded the state’s average.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has information on a state level, and it shows that Tennessee is performing in the top 10 among states in terms of the percentage receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.
Virginia data show Southwest region vaccinating more than state as a whole
The story is similar in Virginia. The state as a whole has a lower rate of vaccinations so far, but Southwest Virginia’s progress is far outpacing the state in the early going.
Information on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website Friday was current through Thursday night and showed 2.79 percent of Virginians had received at least one dose.
The percentage in Southwest Virginia was 4.39, or 57 percent above the state average. The region’s most populous county, Washington (including Bristol) led the way at 5.39 percent.
Lee County’s rate was the lowest but was almost identical to the state average.
A total of 10,915 people in Southwest Virginia had received at least one dose.
Second doses adding up
Both states are reporting data on second doses as well.
As of Friday morning, 1,023 Southwest Virginians had received second doses — less than half a percent of the population.
In Tennessee, the number was 2,678 — just a hair over one half percent of the population.
Sullivan County’s May said people can expect to see an ever-broadening ability to administer vaccines as time passes. In addition to health departments, Ballad and pharmacies, large medical practice groups such as Holston Medical Group and State of Franklin Healthcare Associates are likely to enter the game soon.
That will be a big positive for health departments.
“If we’re fighting just on that front it’s very difficult for us to sustain this effort,” May said.
“As more of the vaccine becomes available the state will start dispensing to a lot of our partners that have signed up to help us.”
For now, May simply recommended that people keep checking with their local health departments.
“Watch for our drive through clinics as we open them up,” May said. “It’s appointments only for the Kingsport coliseum, which is full now, but watch our website and social media.”
News Channel 11 reached out to Ballad Health Friday morning with questions about the system’s involvement in the effort to vaccinate people over 75 and about its expected receipt of additional doses.
We also asked about Ballad’s planned rollout of vaccinations to people over 75 who aren’t Ballad Health Medical Associates patients, something the system said Jan. 8 it hoped to do this week. Ballad hadn’t provided that information as of Friday evening.
WJHL will pass on that information when Ballad provides it.