MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Commissioners are saying they want to do what’s in their power to support the Shelby County Health Department in administering vaccines quickly.
This comes after constituents reached out to them about the issues they had trying to get a vaccine at the Pipkin building this week.
When problems with long wait times popped up at the Pipkin Building on Tuesday that’s when Shelby County Commissioners started hearing from constituents.
They said they reached out to the health department to understand what was going on.
Some answers they said weren’t clear, but they’re set to support the department in this major venture of vaccinating the community.
“I would like to see commissioners provide as much support if that’s additional dollars or additional manpower,” Commissioner Mark Billingsley said.
While the Shelby County Commission gets weekly updates from the Shelby County Commission, they said they’ve been in touch with Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter as changes are made at the Pipkin building to decrease wait times.
“I think the health department is overwhelmed. I think they opened up too many slots and certainly, that led to the very very long lines,” Billingsley said.
“It was just confusing what the health department was saying because I was hearing conflicting messages about whether or not they were actually requiring people to go through the process or checking to see if those being served were part of the phased groups,” Commissioner Mick Wright said.
Both commissioners Mick Wright and Mark Billingsley said they are hopeful with the changes the health department is making which include adding and reassigning staff, improving signage and they believe screening at the site will improve.
“I think we’ll see improvements there. We’re also opening up other sites in the next few weeks and that will help tremendously,” Billingsley said.
“I believe the number one thing we do or the most immediate thing is to speak for constituents and make sure the problems that are being encountered are being heard,” Wright said.
“Today was much smoother than what I had heard,” Jessie Bradley said.
“I think it was pretty good today compared to what I had saw earlier in the week,” Mildred Abston said.
WMC caught up with Jessie Bradley and Mildred Abston immediately after they received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Pipkin Building Friday. Both waited more than three hours in line.
“I heard yesterday people had a five or six hour wait,” Bradley said.
The Shelby County Health Department said it added and reassigned staff to get more hands on deck and it planned to add more signage so people who were not supposed to be in line would not get in it.
Friday, more specific messages flashed near the site telling people only the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were being administered with an appointment.
Bradley said she was screened soon after she got into the line.
“Today they had people checking your ID, wanting to make sure you were registered which is a good thing,” Bradley said.
Officials continue to say the issue of long lines came from too many booked appointments plus people getting in line without appointments and not enough staff to handle the load.
Still, more than 1,400 doses were administered at the Pipkin Building Thursday, more than 600 more than the appointments on the books.
“I would comment that the County Commission has been receiving and will continue to have weekly reports from the Shelby County Health Director on the vaccine rollout,” said Commissioner Brandon Morrison. “Dr. Haushalter has been transparent about the process, the challenges and the steps made in improving. At this time, distributing the vaccine is at least for me the County’s top priority so that we can get fully opened up and have all of our children back in school as soon as possible! Many have reached out to us willing to volunteer and help in the effort. Thank you. Volunteers can go to Shelby.community to sign up for the reserve medical corps. I will continue to use my voice to encourage an ever-improving process with the appropriate partners who can assist. For instance, the pharmacies have been primarily focused on specific populations such as retirement homes. Won’t it be wonderful when they have the ability to give the vaccine in house like they do the flu vaccine? It is great news that the City is partnering with Shelby County Health as well to help provide the vaccine more smoothly at both the Pipkin Center and now having opened up the Old Appling Inspection Station. I know the hospitals and also many churches are willing to partner as the process continues. I am satisfied from what I have heard that we are at this time receiving the appropriate share from the state and working to distribute every single dose effectively.”
“It’s really unacceptable to have so many people with booked vaccine appointments being turned away after waiting for hours,” said Commissioner Michael Whaley. “I know it’s a tough situation for everyone, with very limited supply and high demand, but we have got to do better operationally to ensure those ineligible categories and with appointments are able to get the vaccine in a timely fashion. My understanding is the Health Department is gearing up to open more vaccination sites next week to help ease the lines and will be clearer with better signage about who should be in line. They could also take a look at expanding the hours of these sites to accommodate more appointments in the day.”