MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee has made some notable changes to its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. While the state continues to vaccinate health care workers, those in long term care facilities and first responders, it is also adding any citizen over 75 years old to the top of the list.
It’s a concurrent concept and is showing to be unique compared to other states’ plans.
“To my knowledge, this is one of the few if not the only that’s taking this concurrent approach,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. “Our plan is based on Tennessee data. We know over half of Tennesseans hospitalized are 65 [years old or older] and 80% of deaths are 65 [years old or older].”
The state’s plan now says those 75 years old or older can start getting vaccinated if their county has moved into the 1a2 phase which includes continuing to vaccinate health care workers, employees in the funeral and mortuary business and those already prioritized in phase 1a1.
The state health department says if your county is able to start this phase in vaccination to call your health department first before showing up to get a vaccine.
“We’ve got some counties who are ready to start 75+ [Wednesday],” said Piercey.
For now, that does NOT include Shelby County.
The Shelby County Health Department says:
“Shelby County is still in Phase 1a1, and we will follow the state’s plans and offer the 75 and over group the vaccine in Phase 1a2. But as is noted in the Tennessee Department of Health news release this morning, not every Tennessee County will move into the next phase at the same time. With its large population, Shelby County will remain in Phase 1a1 longer than some other counties with much smaller populations.”
Governor Bill Lee believes this concurrent method will keep health care workers in hospitals while protecting those most likely to end up there.
“We believe this will make our distribution more efficient and more effective,” said Lee. “It will cut our hospitalizations and death rate more quickly.”
Teachers and school staff in Tennessee have also moved up the list of prioritization to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Piercey said when prioritizing groups to get vaccinated, risk is what helps shape the plan. She explained there are three types of risks: risk to hospital infrastructure, risk to individual health outcomes and risk to society and economy.
She said that the last risk is what moved the state’s teachers and school staff up the list to get vaccinated.
“It has to do with the risk to our society and economy because we know when children are in school their societal and economic impact is strengthened,” said Piercey. “So we want to do it for children. We want to do it for parents. Kids can be in school and parents can go to work.”
Teachers and school staff have been moved up to phase 1b. That’s where those with high-risk comorbidities once were. Now, that population is in phase 1c.
However, state officials believe with the change to age group prioritization many of those in the high-risk comorbidity group will be able to get vaccinated sooner because of that.
“So, moving [teachers and school staff] up and others perhaps going further down the line is in no way a value judgment or no statement of worth,” said Piercey. “It’s just a calculus based on the assessment of risk.”
WMC Action News 5 reached out to all seven Shelby County municipal school districts to learn more about any vaccine plans relayed to staff. Even as districts remain on winter break, representatives from school districts in Arlington, Millington, Lakeland and Germantown all returned the request for comment but said they had not learned anything yet and will be looking to TDH and SCHD for guidance.
Collierville Schools also returned our request for comment with this statement from the district’s Public Information Officer Mario Hogue:
“We are so thrilled to see that teachers have been identified as critical infrastructure and will now have the opportunity to receive the vaccine much sooner than anticipated. We will work closely with both our state and local health officials to coordinate an efficient distribution plan for those individuals interested in receiving the vaccine.”
Shelby County Schools and Bartlett City Schools have not returned our request for comment.
As of Tuesday, there have been nearly 80,000 people vaccinated in Tennessee. The state had a goal of 200,000 vaccinated by the New Year’s Day but said a delay in shipping of more than 20,000 vaccines slowed down the numbers.