‘Very quickly, the ask for vaccines across the state outstripped the supply’: COVID-19 vaccines limited across region

Local Coronavirus Coverage

BRISTOL (WJHL) – Health officials in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia received fewer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than in weeks past, as demand rises across both states.

In a statement to News Channel 11, LENOWISCO Health District Nurse Manager Senior Michelle McPheron said:

“All our appointment slots for January are filled. We have been working throughout the day today to add appointment slots based on vaccine allocation for the month of February.

Starting Tuesday, Jan 26, people may call and be placed on a waiting list to be added to appointment slots in February as they become available.

It will likely take several weeks to vaccinate the elderly given the amount allocated to the district and the community partners who also vaccinate.

LENOWISCO Health District Nurse Manager Senior Michelle McPheron

In Southwest Virginia, health districts began Phase 1b COVID-19 vaccine distribution the week of Jan. 11. This week, Dr. Karen Shelton, Director of the Mount Rogers Health District said that the progress made during the first few weeks of distribution will now slow down drastically.

“We are pleased so far with how the vaccine rollout has been going both in the Mount Rogers, as well as the LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau Health Districts. We jumped on vaccine very early and took advantage of the early opportunity when we could actually ask for the number of vaccines that we intended to give each week, and so each of these three districts has capacity to give quite a bit of vaccines, then two weeks ago, we also had the ability to add on community partners, such as pharmacies and other healthcare providers to increase our points of access throughout our communities, so as we entered into Phase 1b, in Southwest Virginia on Jan. 11, we had multiple partners along with us entered into that phase and in that time that we started, we concentrated on those who are 75 and older for our community and then essential functions,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the middle of last week, we did learn that our number of vaccines that we would be getting going forward will be sharply reduced.”

Shelton said the health districts in Southwest Virginia were confident in their distribution plans before most of the state had theirs ready to roll.

“Early on, we were able to take advantage of the opportunity that we had to give as many vaccinations as we could and some of the rest of the state wasn’t quite yet ramped up to give vaccines, but as the rest of the state ramped up for vaccines, very quickly, the ask for vaccines across the state outstripped the supply,” she said.

The health districts in Southwest Virginia will now receive much fewer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as the availability becomes limited and allocation from the federal level slows.

“Where the state has been getting 100,000 per week, that did not increase, and then last week there were asks for 300,000 vaccines across the state with only 100,000 supply, so they had to change the way that they allocate it. No longer are we able to ask for as many vaccines as we want to give. I think that originally, the state was told that there would be an increase in supply of vaccines in the month of February, and so it was very natural to start this way, but as it has become a reality that our supply will not increase over the next month, the State of Virginia has gone to a population-based allocation. Unfortunately, population-based allocations are not very good for Southwest Virginia rural areas, because we have a much smaller population here. So for now, the Mount Rogers Health District has been deemed 2%, LENOWISCO 1% and Cumberland Plateau 1%, and approximately 1% equals 1,000 vaccines, so you can see for that right there that our supply of vaccines is now 4,000 per week for all of Southwest Virginia, when last week, the Mount Rogers Health District had slots to do 4,500 vaccines just along for what we could do. So, unfortunately this 4,000 vaccines across Southwest Virginia does include our hospital partners, as well as our pharmacy partners and healthcare providers, so unfortunately that means that this week, going forward, some of our community partners will not have vaccines to give at this time,” Shelton explained.

She asks that those who want vaccines go to their health district’s website and see where vaccines are available.

The good thing is that the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as well as testing positivity rates, have dropped recently, she added.

“Even though at this point, our allocations are curtailed, we do feel that our early jump on vaccine over the last four weeks has really made a tremendous impact in our region and we’re very thankful for the opportunity that we had to get this vaccine in and we just need people to continue to do all the things that they can to help slow and stop the spread of disease, wearing their face masks, socially distancing, washing our hands, staying home when they’re sick, and all those things,” Shelton said.

In Tennessee, a spokesperson with the Department of Health said in a statement that “The state is receiving approximately 80,000 doses per week. The number of doses allocated to any given county varies with the state’s allocation and is based on the vulnerability of the community and the population of the county.”

Mark Moody, Sullivan County Regional Health Department Emergency Response Coordinator, explained that they are allocated vaccines based on a population formula that the state uses to determine the number of doses.

We have been averaging between 1,200 to 1,500 doses per week for first dose vaccination. That has been a mixture between Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. Last week, we received one tray of Pfizer and 300 Moderna, so about 17,000. This week, it appears that we’re going to get two trays of Pfizer, which will be about 1,700 – 1,800 doses,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Moody explained that about 850 to 875 COVID-19 vaccines are administered at the Bristol Dragway daily.

“Based upon our past experience with being at this site, we could do around 575 to 600 vehicles a day of first dose. That allows time for the registration and allocation and so forth. If all of those vehicles only had one person in them, then we would admit more vehicles,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to the allocation from the state, we can only usually give first dose vaccinations about two days a week.”

Moody said the doses are delivered on Thursdays. The Sullivan County Regional Health Department had a little over 700 doses to administer Monday.

“We’ll vaccinate either till we run out of vehicles or we run out of vaccine, one or the other,” he added.

The reason so few cars are admitted onto the raceway’s property is because of the traffic hazard it causes on Highway 394, the other reason is that it gets too dark and cold for healthcare workers to administer the vaccine.

“If we find that we’re going to have 100 doses or so leftover, we will post on the webpage, notify media and so forth, that we will open again until 3 p.m., we’ve been open several days until 3 p.m., but since we’ve opened up the age group at age 70, it’s kind of been a rush on getting there in line, which is okay, that’s great that people want to come and get vaccinated, we just have to, you know, if we had unlimited vaccines, it would be a little different, but unfortunately, we don’t,” Moody said.” About 1,000 people are just about all that we’re going to be able to do based upon vaccine allocation.”

“If we had unlimited help and unlimited vaccine, we could operate 24 hours a day, but obviously that’s not where we are.”

As for supply needed to keep up with the high distribution rate in Northeast Tennessee, a spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Health released the following statement:

“Vaccines are allocated based on population and social vulnerability of the county. Rather than reallocating vaccines to those areas that are more efficient, we will improve the efficiency of vaccine delivery in those areas that are struggling by increasing staffing and recruiting partners to assist in the effort.”

Bill Christian, TDH Associate Director of the Office of Communication & Media Relations

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