Several of the counties in the Tennessee Department of Health’s Northeast Region, which includes Hawkins, Greene and Hancock counties, have progressed to the next phase of vaccinations and are vaccinating teachers and school staff.
However, counties within the East Tennessee region, the rest of the Lakeway Area, remain in the previous phase and have not yet begun vaccinating teachers.
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“Tennessee counties may progress through COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times, depending on supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and the size of their priority populations,” said Shelley Walker, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Health.
What is unclear, though, is criteria for making the decision go into the next phase of vaccinations and who makes that decision.
The Tribune has confirmed that Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties have started vaccinating staff members in their educational systems.
Counties in the East Tennessee region, however, including Hamblen, Jefferson, Grainger, Cocke and Claiborne counties cannot yet give vaccinations to teachers.
Instead, they are only allowed to vaccinate school nurses at this time because nurses fall under the category of healthcare professionals in the 1a2 phase of vaccinations.
State officials provided no information by press time about whether there were guidelines or criteria on moving to the next phase, instead directing questions to the state vaccination dashboard, which shows what phases counties are in at this time.
As of Monday, multiple Northeast counties were listed as being in the 1b category. The same database, on Tuesday, listed those counties as being in 1a1, 1a2, 75 yrs and older. No counties were listed as being in 1b. However, the largest counties in the state have their own health departments which may have progressed into 1b.
The state has set up a series of phases of progression for people to get vaccinated.
Hamblen County, as well as all other counties in the East Tennessee Region, except Knox County, which has its own health board, is currently in phases 1a1, 1a2 and those 75 years and older who can get vaccinated.
Phases 1a1 allows first responders and those in close contact with COVID patients to get vaccinated while 1a2 allows all other healthcare workers and staff to get vaccinated including dentists, social workers and mental health professionals.
The next phase – 1b – allows teachers and school staff to receive vaccinations, as well as administrators in healthcare facilities.
The Hamblen County Health Department has administered more than 1,450 vaccinations since the vaccination process began.
In a press release, the Tennessee Department of Health said Monday county health department staff members administered more than 25,000 COVID-19 vaccinations during the New Year weekend, and more than 157,000 total vaccinations have been administered statewide to date.
“We are pleased with the overwhelming interest Tennesseans are showing in receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, and are working as quickly as possible to provide vaccinations as we receive additional shipments of vaccines,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey in the release. “Some Tennesseans are now receiving their second doses of vaccine as well, so they will be well protected against COVID-19.”
The press release stated that COVID-19 vaccine supplies remain limited at this time, and availability of vaccines varies by county.
The Tennessee Department of Health said in the release that Tennessee is currently working to vaccinate “Phase 1a populations and individuals aged 75 and up” as vaccine supplies are available.
State officials did say Monday that another phase of vaccinations – long-term care facilities – is about to get underway. The state has contracted with CVS and Walgreen’s to handle that distribution.
On Monday, the state said a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines should start arriving to pharmacies this week to begin administering the long-term care facility vaccinations.
They also pointed out this could result in smaller shipments to county health departments.
“It is critical to get vaccines to those who are the highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 as quickly as possible,” the press release states.