MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More people in Shelby County are now eligible for vaccines.
The Shelby County Health Department opened up appointments for those 70 years old and older.
Some first dose appointments were opened up at the Pipkin building for Thursday and Friday.
This week mainly second doses have been administered there, but health officials said they were able to reach out to those on their standby list to get vaccinated here this week on short notice.
“We were able to try out Vaxqueue yesterday when we had a decrease in some appointments at Pipkin and that worked quite well,” SCHD Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said.
Vaxqueue allows those waiting for a vaccine to get on a list to receive notification, sometimes short notice, of an available vaccine. Those who are currently eligible for a vaccine are prioritized.
Dr. Haushalter said it did cause longer lines at the Pipkin Building Wednesday night, but workers were able to get more people than originally anticipated vaccinated that day.
“We’ll continue to use that moving forward,” Haushalter said.
More public vaccination sites are opening up including one in Whitehaven on Friday.
Local Walmarts started vaccines Wednesday.
On Thursday Cherokee Health sites in Parkway Village and Frayser also opened up appointments.
Dr. Haushalter said she continues to speak to local hospitals about getting them ready to vaccinate more members of the public.
She said the first step is figuring out how to get them more of the county’s weekly allocation of 11,900 doses.
She said she’ll meet with the local hospitals about that on Friday.
“We have to get those doses widely distributed, and we, the health department, can’t be the primary provider of the vaccine,” Haushalter said. “We want it to be like the flu vaccine where you can get it at the pharmacy or hospital.”
In January the Tennessee Department of Health wrote two letters to hospital systems emphasizing the important role they play in getting the public vaccinated.
In its second letter, it said to receive the vaccine to administer beyond their staff hospitals must follow certain guidelines including offering it without regard to the payor and without billing patients.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to the four major hospital systems in Shelby County.
A spokesperson Regional One Health said, “I did confirm that we have received the request. While we are looking into the possibilities, nothing has been planned yet.”
St. Francis said, “Saint Francis Healthcare is currently in Phase 1 of our COVID-19 vaccination plan. This means we are vaccinating front line staff and physicians. We have started planning for community vaccinations. We will keep everyone informed as we are able to expand vaccination capability in collaboration with state and local leaders and organizations. Please refer to our hospital websites and Facebook pages for information as plans become finalized. The most effective safety measures we can take against COVID-19 continue to be wearing a mask, washing our hands, and maintaining social distance. We remind our community not to delay care. Our hospitals are open, safe and ready to care for you.”
We are still waiting to hear back from Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare and Baptist Memorial.
Dr. Haushalter said the vaccines coming into the county are being administered as quickly as possible.
Now, 26 members of FEMA are here for the next month helping with the administration in particular with data input.
“At this point, we’ve given thousands and thousands of doses so there is some lag and there needs to be an increase in that data entry,” Dr. Haushalter said.
In fact, more than 67,000 people have been vaccinated in Shelby County, but health officials did recognize a disparity that has appeared.
Of the more than 13,000 people who have been vaccinated in the 75 years old and above group Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said 47 marked themselves as being of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.
Sixty percent are non-Hispanic, and the remainder were marked as unknown.
“As you can see there’s some work we have to do,” Dr. Randolph said.
Part of that work is reaching the communities to tell them they have access to the vaccine. Thursday a representative from the Mexican Consulate out of Little Rock joined the Shelby County Health Department where he read some of the latest guidance from the Department of Homeland Security.
“ICE and Customs will not conduct enforcement at or near vaccine distribution sites,” Rudolfo Quilantan Arenas said.
The Health Department said it’s also adjusting its protocols.