COVID vaccines are beginning to flow into Tennessee at a much faster pace, and the state has decided to accelerate its distribution plan, opening up to anyone 16 or older whose health puts them at risk.
The group in phase 1C includes those with some very common risk factors, including hypertension and obesity. That’s along with anyone on medication to control diabetes or who has COPD or asthma. And for some conditions, the phase includes anyone who lives in the same household.
All in all, it’s roughly 1.1 million Tennesseans.
“This is a massive population,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state’s health commissioner. “The reason we’re going to go ahead and speed up and go to that phase is in anticipation of this large surplus of vaccine we expect in the next two to three weeks.”
By the end of the month, the state expects to be getting 300,000 doses a week — up from 80,000 a week in January. That’s partly due to the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as larger shipments of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The newly authorized Johnson & Johnson shots should begin showing up in Tennessee this week with 54,000 doses. Pfizer and Moderna aim to increase allotments by 30% to 40%.
Increasingly, the concern in Tennessee could shift from supply of vaccine to demand for it. Currently, local health departments have 228,000 openings for vaccination appointments, Piercey says.
To get all the additional shots out quickly, the state is starting to plan several drive-thru mass vaccination events in the coming weeks. Some are expected on the campuses of the state’s community colleges.
For the large events, the state plans to use the new Johnson & Johnson doses, because they require only one shot and scheduling a follow-up appointment could be difficult.