(WJHL) — Following the Associated Press’ confirmation of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, News Channel 11 reached out to state officials Friday to learn when the newly approved vaccine will be available to the public in Northeast Tennessee.
News Channel 11’s Anslee Daniel spoke with Tennessee Department of Health officials, who said the state continues to wait for federal instruction regarding the exact timing of the COVID-19 vaccine’s distribution throughout the state.
“We anticipate we may receive our first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee by mid-December,” said Shelley Walker with the Tennessee Department of Health. “We expect to receive 56,550 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in our first allocation, followed shortly by the initial allocation of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine will be shipped directly by Pfizer to hospitals approved as providers of this vaccine.”
Gov. Bill Lee confirmed in a media availability Friday afternoon that Tennessee should expect 100,000 additional COVID-19 vaccines from another producer, Moderna.
“We expect to have 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as a first round, and then within about a week, we’re expected to have another 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine,” said Lee. “The follow-up to that is uncertain right now, but those numbers are still holding and that’s what we expect to have next week.”
Locally, Ballad Health will receive the COVID-19 vaccines first to store within their five distribution sites — three in Northeast, Tennessee and two in Southwest, Virginia — at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ballad Health’s Chief Executive Physician Dr. Clay Runnels said the health care facility will prioritize distributing the COVID-19 vaccines among workers who continue battling the virus on the frontlines.
“Our initial allocation is designed for and designated for health care workers that are working in acute care areas in our hospitals,” said Runnels. “I suspect that over the coming weeks and into January, we should have enough to vaccinate the vast majority of our health care workers and our physician medical staff as well.”
The hospital system’s multidisciplinary team comprised of those working in nursing, pharmacy and infection prevention is in charge of Ballad’s distribution.
“They’ve put together a comprehensive plan for delivering these vaccines in a pod delivery system, which is pretty commonly used across the United States for the delivery of this type of vaccine,” Runnels said.
Part of that plan included the need for storage units capable of keeping the vaccine cold enough.
“This one is particularly unique in the requirement for the very cold temperature that is needed to keep the vaccine stable until it’s ready to be delivered,” Runnels said. “There’s some very specific directions on how to not only store them but how to thaw them out and deliver them to people who are in need of the vaccine.”
The state has already established a plan that maps how the COVID-19 will be distributed; the only question now is when.
Walker said the Tennessee Department of Health expects the state to receive the FDA-approved vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech within a few days.
“We await additional information from our federal partners about that,” said Walker. “Once a vaccine is approved, we do expect to begin receipt within just a few days.”
This answer came two hours before the FDA approved the vaccine Friday night, marking the fastest-developed vaccine in history, according to the Associated Press.
While health care leaders and government officials alike have expressed optimism about the quick development of a vaccine, there has been plenty of skepticism.
“There’s no vaccine that doesn’t have a certain percentage of people that won’t have some reaction to it,” said Runnels. “I do not see anything in the data that we’ve been provided by the FDA that this is unsafe in any way compared to previous vaccines that have been produced.”
Runnels added that Ballad Health will not require its employees to take the vaccine.
“There’s a feeling that since it’s authorized under an emergency use authorization that it’s not feasible to make it a mandatory vaccine at this point,” said Runnels.
The chief executive physician plans to take the vaccine when it becomes available.
“I plan to take the vaccine myself when it’s my turn,” said Runnels. “Vaccines in general have a certain rate of causing reactions in general after they have the vaccine. There’s no vaccine that doesn’t have a certain percentage of people that won’t have some reaction to it.
“I do not see anything in the data that we’ve been provided by the FDA that this is unsafe in any way compared to previous vaccines that have been produced.”
The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive at Ballad’s facilities within 18 to 20 days of the first dose’s shipment.