Several states, including Tennessee, are moving up seniors in their COVID vaccine distribution plans as they see a more urgent need to reach the group of people most likely to need hospital care.
Federal guidelines give states some latitude in whom to prioritize for vaccination. Tennessee has chosen to vaccinate first responders right after hospital workers, and the state has now decided to start vaccinating anyone over 75 as early as next week, whether they’re in a nursing home or not.
“It allows us to vaccinate our highest risk individuals earlier, regardless of their employment status or industry. And the crux of all our decision making is risk,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.
Seniors make up a majority of hospitalizations in the state, which are setting new records nearly every day at more than 3,200. And people over 65 make up roughly 80% of all fatalities, which are now approaching 7,000 in Tennessee.
Colorado, Florida and Texas are also moving seniors to the front of the line, in part to respond to unanticipated delays in vaccine distribution.
Piercey says a few counties are ready to move on to anyone over 75 right now. But some counties with more hospitals and first responders, like Nashville, are barely through the initial “1a1” group and still waiting on more vaccine.
The state has said some shipments have been delayed by a week, with just 90,000 of the state’s 200,000 year-end goal met by Wednesday.
“Davidson County does not have enough vaccine right now to cover the entire 1a1 group,” Mayor John Cooper said Thursday morning. “The timeline for vaccinations for subsequent groups will likely be delayed.”
As of Thursday morning, fewer than 11,000 frontline health care workers and uniformed first-responders who live in Davidson County had received vaccine, which is roughly 20% of the 55,000 who are in that first group for Davidson County. About 6,500 more who work in Nashville hospitals but live in surrounding counties have also been immunized, according to the city’s interim public health director, Dr. Gill Wright.
But right now, the city can’t move on to offering vaccines to anyone over 75 yet. When the time comes, Wright says the city will notify people eligible for inoculation.