Loudon County tops state in vaccinations

U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Niki Hammontree administers a vaccine Friday at Loudon Municipal Park.

Loudon County leads Tennessee in COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Loudon County has the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents at 40.27%. The state average is 29.3%.

Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, said she is proud of her team and everyone in the county who has helped reach the goal.

“I think we’re doing excellent,” Harrill said. “I think our population, since we have a huge retirement community in Loudon County, I think that has helped with our rates because we had so many seniors in the beginning getting vaccinated. I think that has been a positive.”

Harrill hopes residents continue to get vaccinated so everyone can resume normal lives.

“It’s so exciting feeling that hope that we are coming to a place where we can return to normal, because with that many vaccinated, that’s just a step closer to herd immunity and people being at a place where they do feel safer,” she said. “I’ll be honest, it’s kind of emotional as well, because when you work at it every single day and you see how hard staff is working and it just really gives you a sense of, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’m proud. Very, very proud.”

Harrill heard after Dr. Bud Guider, a retired Loudon pediatrician, read about the accomplishment and texted her congratulations.

Distribution of vaccines has been “magnificent,” Guider said.

“What concerns me is that the rate of vaccinations is going down, and it needs to stay consistent,” Guider said. “The other thing that concerns me, and I don’t want to rain on this parade, but Tennessee statewide is one of the bottom states in the whole country. We’re in the bottom four — Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama I think are the worst states in the country for vaccination rates. But Loudon County is the No. 1 county in the state of Tennessee out of 95 counties, so that’s fantastic. We’re doing our part. The state overall is doing very poorly though.”

“Keeping up the pace” is vital to push through the pandemic, he said.

“We don’t need to drop off, because if we don’t keep the pace going, the variants may get ahead of the vaccination rate and we could be in trouble again,” Guider said. “Timing is important. It’s not like we can wait three months and see how things are going. We need to keep this rate of vaccination going strong to minimize the development of variants. It’s a time-sensitive thing.”

Guider has been “amazed” at how many are unaware of vaccination availability.

“I run into people all the time, and they don’t know that they’re eligible,” he said. “… ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was eligible. I was just waiting my turn.’ Everybody in the state of Tennessee — everybody in the country I think, I know everybody in the state of Tennessee — is eligible 16 and up. … The health department is giving vaccines every day from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. at the municipal park in Loudon, and you don’t have to have an appointment, and it’s a drive-through 15-minute process. You don’t even have to get out of your car. Just drive up there, get your shot, wait 15 minutes and drive out. … A lot of people just don’t seem to know that.”

U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Niki Hammontree has distributed vaccines daily at Loudon Municipal Park.

“It is really cool to be a part of something that big, especially in Loudon County because it’s more of a rural county,” Hammontree said. “To think that we’re doing more than Davidson County, Knox County, all across the state, it’s very overwhelming and very humbling. We love our Loudon County residents for coming.”