Hamblen Health Department juggling COVID responsibilities

The Hamblen County Health Department is continuing to give second dose vaccinations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations, balancing out reaching out to people and giving shots.

“It’s like a puzzle,” said Sherrie Montgomery, Hamblen County Health Department director.

The health department is currently faced with the challenge of manually calling all those that received first vaccinations before Jan. 8 in order to schedule a second dose.

Both approved COVID-19 vaccination shots require two shots, Moderna at 28 days and Pfizer at 21 days.

The health department faces multiple challenges. Before Jan. 8 it did not make appointments, but instead gave a date when the next shot should be taken. The challenge is getting in touch with the people who need the second dose, while continuing testing and delivering first doses.

“We’re manually having to call those people who got their first dose,” Montgomery said.

The health department is using only Pfizer vaccinations, but when vaccinating first began the department used Moderna. So, there is currently crossover between the two and the health department is having to give shots of two different brands of vaccinations.

She said the health department has checks and balances to make sure each individual gets their appropriate shot.

The end of the second dosing of Moderna should be coming soon. Montgomery said the last day of giving second doses for Moderna is next Thursday.

“That should get all the dosing of Moderna done,” she said.

Once that occurs, the health department should be able to get to a regular schedule of part of the day conducting first doses and the other part of the day giving second doses, she said.

Montgomery said the health department is looking at Feb. 4 for a start date.

But, she said there has been no indication yet on when the county would move to the next phase of vaccinations.

She said that would be a region wide decision for the East Tennessee district. Currently, the East Tennessee region is conducting vaccinations of those 75 years and older, first responders and healthcare professionals.

Other regions, including the Northeast Tennessee region, which includes Greene, Hancock and Hawkins counties, have moved to phase 1b, which includes teachers and educational staff.

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said there is frustration within the education department on how state officials have handled vaccinations.

He said teachers are putting themselves at risk daily while keeping schools open, but yet there doesn’t seem to be a coherent plan.

“It’s very frustrating that the state hasn’t taken care of us,” he said.

He emphasized that the local health department has been outstanding in its response without sufficient response from the state.

There is exasperation to see teachers in surrounding counties getting vaccinated.

“It’s more frustrating that other regions are vaccinating teachers,” he said.

State health officials contacted weeks ago provided no metrics on how the decision is made to go into the next phase or who makes that decision.

The state provided a statement to the Citizen Tribune that when certain requirements are met within demographics then a region could go to the next phase. But, the state did not provide information on how the Northeast Region has met those demographics.

Perry said the school system is doing everything it can to keep schools open during the pandemic.

The state, though, doesn’t seem like it’s organized, he said.

“It doesn’t seem we have a plan,” Perry said.

The Tennessean reported this week state officials expected more than 400,000 doses from the “Trump reserve,” but these doses either did not exist or were distributed elsewhere.