Legislators give update on COVID-19 vaccine rollout

There have been “hiccups” in Tennessee’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

During a “Zoom” meeting with members of the Tennessee Press Association Monday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton addressed the vaccine rollout and the obstacles that have cropped up, as well as teaching in a pandemic, and public meetings.

“This is the first time we’ve had mass vaccinations in our state,” Sexton said of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said the vaccines were first offered through health departments only, but pharmacies will soon be a part of the vaccination effort.

“We’ve expanded the number of people who can give it right now and hopefully that number will increase,” he said.

Pharmacies are in line to be eligible to give the vaccine, but one of the hiccups the state is seeing is the nature is the time line.

Those eligible to sign up — the state is currently vaccinating those 75 and older with underlying health conditions and 70 and older with underlying health conditions. The state is hoping to move past the initial phases and begin vaccinating teachers soon.

But the problem stems that once a vaccine is received by those administering them they have 48 to 72 hours to give them. And sometimes, Sexton said, those administering the vaccines “don’t get what they have been promised.”

McNally said pharmacies — he specifically mentioned CVS and Walgreen’s — stepped up in administering vaccines to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“We want to lower the hospitalization rate, lower the mortality rate,” he said. “And I want to thank the pharmacies for participating the vaccine program.”

Overall, he added, “We’re moving in the right direction.

It was noted by the Citizen Tribune in Morristown that some residents of Hamblen County are traveling out of county and receiving vaccines, even though they may not be a member of the 1A group — the elderly with underlying health conditions.

Sexton said that’s a matter of some Tennessee counties received more vaccines than they are using, and that those vaccines need to be used before they expire. People who sign up at locations out of their county may well receive a vaccine, but it depends on how much is available.

About 40 counties in the state are allowing vaccines for teachers, but the East Tennessee Region does not have a county doing so.

Sexton reiterated that health departments and pharmacies will use the vaccines they have so they won’t expire.

“There is some flexibility there,” he said.

McNally said the state is, “Trying to follow the federal guidelines as much as possible.”

He also noted that Tennessee was number one in the country in giving first dose vaccines per capita at one time. “We’ve dropped a little bit,” he said. But the state is number one giving second doses of the vaccine per capita.

“We’re expanding, I think we’ll get better,” he said.

Sexton also pointed to the logistics of the vaccine being a two dose vaccine. That, he said, is a complex situation.