MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands of people in Shelby County are getting signed up for vaccine appointments as this is the first full week those 16 and older are eligible. But on Monday morning thousands of appointments at the public vaccinations sites remained open.
They continued to fill up throughout the day. Now some sites are full for the week. Those newly eligible people getting the shot hope their peers will follow their lead.
“I fit the 16 and older age group. So here I am,” said Allison White, who got vaccinated on Monday.
White is one of thousands of people in Shelby County now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in its last phase. Those 16 and older became eligible on Friday and White had her appointment by Monday.
“It’s nice because everyone else in my family has pretty much already gotten theirs,” said White. “It’s nice to know we’re all kind of covered now.”
“I’m doing it more to protect others than to protect myself,” said Shelby County resident Scott Lane.
Lane got his first dose of the vaccine Monday. He knows the toll the virus can take as his father died from COVID-19 last year. Now, he wants to protect those closest to him.
“I have an aunt and uncle who I’m very close with, and they’ve been vaccinated,” said Lane. “I was very concerned about them.”
Both White and Lane hope their peers follow suit. Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld said it’s imperative all eligible groups get the vaccine, and it’s education that will help get us to herd immunity.
“I think we have outstanding answers to those concerns [about the vaccine],” said Threlkeld. “I think we can put it in a mathematical framework that people can understand to show the safest strategy is to go ahead and get the vaccine.”
“A lot of people I work with have signed up and will be getting theirs this week which is great,” said White.
Nearly 300,000 people have been vaccinated in Shelby County, and now more than 96,000 with both doses. That means we have more people with a completed vaccination series here than there were COVID-19 cases over the last year.
While doctors will have to wait and see if young adults get the vaccine, health officials are getting a better idea of what groups seem reluctant.
National polls are finding when it comes to political affiliations, Republicans are less likely to get the vaccine compared to Democrats. These national polls reflect what health officials are seeing locally.
The Tennessee Department of Health said it’s currently studying ways to reach rural conservatives which the department has found have been slow to get the vaccine. However, many Mid-South GOP lawmakers in Congress are urging eligible constituents to get the vaccine.
“Remember this, make sure you wash your hands, use sanitizer, wear your mask, and take the time to do what I did, set that appointment, get that vaccination,” said U.S. Senator from Marsha Blackburn (TN-R).
Many lawmakers were open about their vaccination statuses when WMC asked. In the Senate, along with Senator Blackburn, Tennessee’s second U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty (R) said he’s also vaccinated, as well as Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) of Mississippi and Senator John Boozeman (R) of Arkansas.
Senator Hagerty’s Office sent this statement:
“Senator Hagerty has repeatedly praised the work of Operation Warp Speed, believing that the best stimulus for Tennesseans is getting vaccine doses into arms so we can fully reopen the economy. The Senator encourages all Tennesseans to get the vaccine when they are eligible.”
Over the last month, several polls have shown those who consider themselves Republican or voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 are less likely to get the vaccine than Democrats.
A poll from NPR, PBS and Marist found about 47 percent of Trump voters and 41 percent of Republicans said they would not get the vaccine compared to 10 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of those who voted for President Joe Biden.
Senator Boozeman’s Office sent this statement:
“I hope every Arkansan who is eligible to receive a vaccine will get one. This is important for the health of every resident and the hope we all share to return to normal as quickly as possible.”
Hyde-Smith’s Office sent this statement:
“Since the start of the global health emergency, Senator Hyde-Smith has followed CDC guidelines and encouraged everyone to do what they can to get our nation past this pandemic. That said, she may recommend being vaccinated but also understands the decision to be inoculated is largely matter of individual responsibility and choice.”
The Office of Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi did not directly answer the questions about if Sen. Wicker is vaccinated, but did say:
“I encourage every eligible Mississippian to register for a free drive-thru vaccination at https://msdh.ms.gov/. Each new shot in the arm will help our state and the nation finally put this pandemic behind us.”
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas did not respond to any requests for comment.
As for the area members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. David Kustoff (R) said he’s vaccinated, as well as Democratic Representative Steve Cohen of Memphis.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) of North Mississippi said he has been vaccinated. We did not hear back from the area’s other representative Rep. Trent Kelly (R).
A spokesperson for U.S. Representative Rick Crawford (R) of Arkansas’ first Congressional told us,
“The Congressman has received his COVID vaccine and encourages those who are able and willing to get theirs. However, he believes individuals are capable of making the right decisions when it comes to their own health.”