Tennessee lags in many COVID vaccine categories as nation reaches milestone

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Tennessee’s vaccination rates for adults rank 47th in the country and are 10 percent behind the national average. Northeast Tennessee’s figures are similar.

State 10% behind U.S. rates for adults, those over 65 with one vaccine dose – Northeast reflecting trend

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – 50.4 percent and 40.8 percent. Those figures provided clear examples Monday of the gap between COVID vaccination progress in Tennessee and nationwide — a day after federal officials celebrated the milestone that half of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

Where 50.4 percent of American adults have received one dose, Tennessee’s figure is nearly 10 percent lower — placing it 47th out of the 50 states. The data come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

‘Vaccine hesitancy is a real challenge right now’

Dr. Stephen May, Sullivan County Health Department

Dr. Stephen May doesn’t need convincing that his part of Tennessee has a problem with vaccination rates.

The Sullivan County Health Department medical director told News Channel 11 that despite major efforts — and plenty of supply — vaccinations have slowed such that the county hasn’t had to order new supply from the state for either of the past two weeks.

“The problem now is vaccine uptake, and we’ve just not seen the demand and uptake that really we would like to be seeing to get our population vaccinated at this time,” May said.

His department concluded a mass vaccination event late last week having administered only about one in eight of the 8,000 available.

May said the department is trying to develop strategies to make it more convenient for working adults and others to access shots. Unfortunately, he said, that’s not the bigger problem right now.

“Vaccine hesitancy is a real challenge right now,” May said. “There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy and of course the pause with the (Johnson & Johnson) did not help either as far as confidence.”

COVID vaccination data by multiple measures continue to rank Tennessee among the bottom five states. And while they initially exceeded state averages, the vaccination rates in Northeast Tennessee are currently very close to state averages.

Included in those low rankings are the state’s percentage of people 65 and over who have received at least one dose — and been fully vaccinated.

Nationwide, 81 percent of people over 65 have received a vaccine dose and almost two-thirds (65.9 percent) are fully vaccinated. Tennessee’s totals stand at 71.6 percent with at least one dose and 57.2 percent fully vaccinated.

That puts Tennessee 46th among the states for fully vaccinated people over 65. Virginia, at 66 percent, ranks 24th.

Virginia, Southwest Virginia diverge

Virginia is in the top third among the states in the adults with at least one dose category at 53.2 percent. Vaccination rates in Southwest Virginia, however, are running significantly lower than the state average and are closer to Tennessee’s and Northeast Tennessee’s totals.

Figures through Friday for Tennessee and Monday for Virginia show the News Channel 11 viewing area tracking with the lower rates being experienced by Tennessee — on both sides of the state line.

As a percentage of the total population, including children, Virginia as a whole was running slightly ahead of the U.S. at 39.9 percent to 39.5 percent.

Tennessee was at 32.3 percent, with Northeast Tennessee barely higher at 32.5 percent and Southwest Virginia at 33.6 percent.

On the measure of throughput — the percentage of vaccines received from the federal government that have made their way into people’s arms — Tennessee also lags.

While 83.7 percent of Virginia’s received vaccines had been administered as of Monday, the figure was just 69.8 percent in Tennessee. Nationwide, the figure is 79.2 percent.

Clearly, a number of those vaccines are sitting in cold storage at the Sullivan County Health Department, where May is very anxious for them to get administered sooner rather than later.

“Pfizer and Moderna are great vaccines, and we have plenty of those vaccines now,” he said.

“We’ve actually not had to place an order for vaccine for the last two weeks – we’ve had plenty of vaccine in stock. Our goal is to get shots in people’s arms.”

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