State increases vaccine eligibility

Joe Nowell Jr., Fresh Pharmacy owner, draws a COVID-19 vaccination shot.

Loudon County residents 16 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“I mean this is great because this allows us to vaccinate anybody that wants to get vaccinated other than small children,” Teresa Harill, Loudon County Health Department director, said. “It’s positive in the sense that we don’t have to, and I’ll be honest that was kind of hard at the very beginning because the vaccine was here, people wanted the vaccine, but I think we definitely vaccinated our most vulnerable population first and that’s who we really should have, our elderly.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, eligibility in phase 3 of the state’s vaccination plan will run concurrently with age-based eligibility. Phase 3 includes grocery store workers who weren’t eligible before, residents and staff members of congregate living facilities, including college dormitories, group homes and shelters and those in the corrections system.

“As we’ve promised, we’re able to expand our COVID-19 vaccine eligibility as vaccine supplies have increased and we’ve made substantial progress in protecting those most at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19,” Lisa Piercey, state health commissioner, said in a news release. “Tennessee will now open COVID-19 vaccination to all eligible adults well ahead of the federal goal of May 1.”

Prior to the announcement, Harrill said Loudon County was in phase 2a/b of Tennessee’s vaccination plan.

Demand for shots hasn’t been as high as Harrill and others with the health department thought. She believes that could be because more places are offering shots, although numbers have stayed “steady.”

Harrill said the department has averaged about 200 vaccinations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while half-day hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays hit around 120. To register for a shot, visit vaccinate.tn.gov or call 866-442-5301.

“I feel personally last two or three months we are at a much better place,” Harrill said. “Our percentage of active cases is lower than they’ve been in months and months. I think that the more people that are vaccinated the less the virus, the transmission and all that. My concern is would be there are the other variants of the virus, but the good thing is the vaccine is going to help with that, I mean it’s definitely going to help. That’s a positive.

“I just hope everybody doesn’t let their guard down to a point about not wearing their mask and doing the social distancing, all the things that’s become a part of our daily lives,” she added.

The Department of Health reported 53 active cases in Loudon County on Monday, which is down significantly from months ago in the 300-400 range. The county has 69 reported deaths.

Vistara Pharmacy in Lenoir City received Moderna vaccinations Jan. 25. Bimal Patel, pharmacist, said business has been “busy but it’s not hectic.” He thanked people for their willingness to get vaccinated.

“Basically if they’re on a list, we call them and work with them to see what kind of time for the appointment because the vaccine comes in 10 doses,” Patel said. “Once we have opened the vaccine we have to use it within six hours, so we need to make sure that at least 10 people are on that time.”

Patel said anyone can sign up at tiny.cc/lenoircity.

Fresh Pharmacy in Lenoir City didn’t receive Moderna vaccinations until March 3, so Joe Nowell Jr., pharmacy owner, said a focus is on going through its current list. Johnson & Johnson shots, which require use within two years, became available Monday, he said.

“We have lists of people who are calling, so right now our list is about 17 pages long,” Nowell said. “We have lists, and then what we’re finding is even if we put people on a list when we call them, they’re telling us that they got it somewhere else. The problem is that people are actually signing up for multiple lists. We’ll talk to people and say, ‘How many lists are you on?’ They’ll say, ‘Like six,’ but they don’t bother to call the people and tell them that they got it at this site, so there’s five sites with their name on it that’s clogging the system.”

Nowell emphasized going to the same place for first and second doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“It gets really confusing, because these are allocated per county, and so if you got to McMinn County or something and get a shot, then go back to McMinn to get your second shot because the state is allocating for those,” Nowell said. “If they know 100 has been shipped then the second batch of 100 is being shipped there, too. But over here you got 100 and out of this 100 for the primaries is the secondaries coming over getting them, then you’re denying one person in this area a primary. It is a juggle, because we’ve got some people who have got the first shot and when we call them they don’t want the second shot.”

Vaccination cards should also be kept and not laminated in case needed again, Nowell said.

“We’ve had people that don’t understand that it’s important, they threw it away, they thought it was just a reminder card,” he said. “It’s like, no, no, this is something you need to keep on your person because we’re not sure how — since we don’t have a national database, we’re not sure how many times we’re going to use it.”

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Nowell said flus, colds and other ailments are down due to safe practices.

“Interestingly enough, we’ve also seen a drastic reduction in people’s hay fever springtime ailments because people are still wearing masks,” he said. “The allergens aren’t bothering them as much.”