Regional supply appears abundant as COVID kids’ vaccine campaign begins

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Thousands of pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses are already shipped to Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, with the abundant supply about to be available across a wide array of providers.

Nearly 50 shots could go in arms Monday at two Sullivan County Regional Health Office sites, with the Kingsport Health Department able to do up to 32 and Blountville up to 16.

Retail pharmacies appear to be among the quickest routes to booking an appointment in the Tri-Cities of Tennessee, with more than 1,500 appointments available across seven stores as of Wednesday afternoon. Those start Saturday at four Walgreens stores and Monday at three CVS locations.

Hundreds more are set to come online by next week at pediatricians’ offices, schools (in Southwest Virginia), health departments, Ballad Health and several other vaccine partners.

“I don’t think there will be anybody who wants this vaccine within our Ballad region who won’t be able to get it,” Ballad Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Combs told News Channel 11. Ballad is in line for an initial shipment of at least 800 doses from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

“I think, as with all logistics and supply chains as we’ve seen with everything, while this is coming from here and not offshore, I think just getting that rolled out will take a week or so.”

Holston Medical Group (HMG) is in line for 300 doses initially. Like Ballad, they’ll receive those directly from TDH.

“We are hoping that we will have that and we’ll be ready to schedule appointments and administer within the next two weeks,” pediatrician and medical director Dr. Alicia Wright said while acknowledging that could occur as soon as next week.

HMG will schedule appointments as soon as it receives vaccines and already has slots available.

“We just have not distributed them to particular patients until we have vaccine in hand and are ready to start those clinics,” Wright said.

HMG will post information on social media and its website “as soon as we are ready to schedule those appointment slots,” she said.

Like Combs, Wright said she doesn’t expect any parent to encounter difficulty accessing a vaccine somewhere, whether it’s with their pediatrician or elsewhere.

TDH Medical Director Dr. Tim Jones said he hopes uptake will be high because of the difference availability will make in combatting the pandemic.

While allowing that most children don’t get very sick from COVID, Jones said much more is at stake.

“Even if they have pretty mild disease, they could spread to parents, to their loved ones, to people who might be really high risk, so this is not only of benefit to the person that gets vaccinated,” Jones said.

Pharmacies get theirs straight from feds

Judging just from online appointment availability, Northeast Tennessee retail pharmacies appear to have an abundant supply of the just-approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

Pharmacies will begin giving shots Saturday, in the case of Walgreen’s, but they’re far from the only option for those parents eager to get their kids vaccinated as early as possible.

From 600 doses just for health departments in two rural health districts of Southwest Virginia to 300 doses for a large pediatric group and shots at an array of other providers, this phase of the vaccination rollout appears set to start with a bang — if the demand is there.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, nearly 1,300 COVID-19 vaccine appointments for 5 to 11-year-olds remained available for booking through Nov. 12 just at four Walgreen’s locations — one each in Johnson City, Elizabethton, Kingsport and Bristol.

And three CVS locations, one in Johnson City and two in Kingsport, showed 459 available appointments for the Pfizer first dose between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12. They are the only Tennessee CVS locations in the Tri-Cities offering the shot for younger kids.

Registering takes just a few minutes from the Walgreen’s vaccination landing page, which you can reach HERE. Users can currently click through each day up through Nov. 12 and select available appointments.

The CVS website also has a scheduling tool that begins with a two-question COVID screening. It can be accessed HERE.

The appointment times are staggered 15 minutes apart and run throughout each day into the evenings.

Through its Federal Retail Pharmacy program, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides doses directly to participating pharmacies. The shots are free, though providers will bill insurance for those who have it.

Many partners in Southwest VA

In Southwest Virginia, the Lenowisco and Upper Cumberland health districts of Southwest Virginia each received 300 kid-sized doses, which come in 10-dose vials. A second shipment is expected to arrive Thursday for the districts, which encompass Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell (Upper Cumberland) and Lee, Wise, Scott counties and the town of Norton (Lenowisco), Population Health Manager Allie Phillips said.

Additionally, each of those districts has a pediatrician’s office that has requested doses, as well as several family practices, federally qualified health centers and free clinics.

Schools and pharmacies are getting in on the act as well, Phillips said. Each health district has 25 school clinics scheduled before the Thanksgiving holiday, with 900 total doses set aside — 400 in Lenowisco and 500 in Cumberland Plateau.

In Southwest Virginia, some pharmacies get doses through VDH.

In the Mount Rogers Health District, Bristol Va’.s Van Pelt Elementary School will host a vaccine clinic Nov. 10 starting at 3 p.m. The system will also have a virtual town hall Monday during which local health experts will answer parents’ questions.

What has demand been for older kids?

In the 12 to 15-year-old age group, vaccines have been available since mid-May, and a total of 8,665 people had been vaccinated in that age group as of Tuesday in Northeast Tennessee.

In Southwest Virginia, 4,390 had been vaccinated as well as 2,771 16 and 17-year-olds. That represents 36.4% of that 12-17 age group’s total population in Southwest Virginia.

Vaccine uptake percentages among 12 to 15-year olds vary widely in Northeast Tennessee.

Washington County leads the way with nearly 46% in that age group having received at least one dose. Sullivan County is at 37.8% and Unicoi is the only other county above 30%, at 32.7%.

Two counties — Johnson at 18.4% and Hawkins at 22.7% — have rates less than half of Washington County’s. Greene County’s rate is 29.6% and Carter’s 25.3%.

Ballad’s Combs said he’s been impressed by the number of young children who have asked him about when they can get the COVID vaccine.

“I’m always amazed that while we’ve seen a lot of adult hesitancy the kids are like, ‘I’m tired of wearing a mask, I want to go to school, I want to play football, I will get my vaccine so I can do that,’ or very benevolent, ‘I don’t want to get my friends sick,'” Combs said.

“‘I want to play with my friend and they’ve got a chronic illness, I would like to do something good for them. And it’s really very heartening to hear that from a 6-year-old that’s coming in for their physical.”

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