New COVID-19 variant enters Shelby County as health dept. deals with vaccine woes

Tough questions about vaccine distribution

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County health leaders confirm that the South African COVID-19 variant is in Shelby County.

One person tested positive for the variant after a trip to Colorado.

The person was diagnosed on Jan. 24, however it doesn’t appear that there is community spread.

The news comes as frustration continues to grow as people are trying desperately to sign up for appointments.

Helping older residents sign up for vaccine

“It’s almost like winning the lottery,” said 74-year-old Joy Rhoades, who is just one of the many calls WMC Action News 5 received about difficulties scheduling second vaccination appointments.

Rhoades says as soon as she learned this afternoon the health department was adding more vaccination appointments she tried to secure an appointment but they were all gone almost immediately.

Related | Shelby Co. Health Dept. releases COVID-19 vaccine schedule for this week

“I don’t understand why when they did the first shots knowing you had to have two in a certain period of time they didn’t go ahead and schedule everybody,” said Rhoades.

Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter told county commissioners that the computer system used to make appointments, Sign up Genius may be the problem

She says they are exploring other options.

South African Variant found in Shelby County

Haushalter points to large retailers like Walmart and Kroger to help in administering the vaccine and also private practices offering it to their patients.

“We are not able to do this individually. We rely heavily on all our partners, but also over time the plan is to move more vaccines into the private sector for ease of access,” said Haushalter.

Haushalter went on to say, “I do anticipate with increased predictability that things will smooth out over time.”

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There are also questions surrounding why 1,315 doses of vaccines were thrown out due to expiration.

Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph says there is a current investigation into the matter.

“We are cooperating with the Tennessee Department of Health to figure out how this happened,” said Randolph.

There are also concerns surrounding the vaccine hotline number 222-SHOT.

People have complained that no one answers the phone or it goes straight to voicemail.

Randolph says they are aware of the problem but the phone system simply can’t handle the volume of calls. He says they are working to upgrade the system.

Despite the missteps, health leaders point to the fact that they have successfully vaccinated over 100,000 people in Shelby County, and statewide they are one of the best departments to vaccinate people of color.

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