MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s a chance the City of Memphis leaders said they’d be foolish to turn away. More than 20,000 extra vaccine doses a week are now coming into Shelby County along with a federal mass vaccination site.
On Wednesday, vaccinations will ramp up at the Pipkin Building as the FEMA Community Vaccination Center opens. It can vaccinate 3,000 people a day, but about 1,000 of those appointments remain open going into its first day.
“All of [the federal vaccination sites] have worked and they have worked well,” FEMA Region IV Administrator Gracia Szczech said. “The goal is to get vaccinations in arms.”
Szczech has been a part of several openings of FEMA mass vaccination centers across the Southeast. She’s now in Memphis preparing for the opening of the nation’s latest site at the Pipkin Building.
“This site is accessible. Whether it’s through mass transit for drive-thru and for walk-up,” said Szczech.
Szczech said data drove FEMA’s decision to open a site in Memphis. The White House COVID-19 Response Team sited its high score on the CDC Social Vulnerability Index, including one in ten homes in Memphis lacking a vehicle.
The City of Memphis, who runs vaccinations in Shelby County, said it is not behind in administrating vaccines, with more than 370,000 given it’s the highest in the state. Still, as the most populous county in the state, that means about 13 percent of the county is fully vaccinated according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
A quarter of the population has at least one dose. About 700,000 Shelby County residents will have to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
“In fact, when this was first offered to us, we were still leading with the number of vaccinations given by county,” said Memphis COO Doug McGowen. “I would be a fool to look at 21,000 vaccines and the opportunity we have in this community and say no thank you.”
About 15,000-20,000 vaccine appointments in Shelby County this week remained open late Tuesday afternoon.
To fill open appointments, especially at the mass vaccination site, the City of Memphis is pivoting to a new game plan.
Nearly 24 hours before the FEMA Community Vaccination Center opens, about 2,000 appointments remained open. To help get more people signed up, the city and FEMA made the decision to create appointments at the site for people needing second dose Pfizer.
“The idea going in is we would do three weeks of first doses then three weeks of second doses,” said McGowen. “Evaluating the data going into tomorrow, our first big day, we still had a couple thousand doses available, so we made the decision to open it up to first and second doses.”
To make an appointment visit https://covid19.memphistn.gov/.