Task force updated on vaccine supply

Sherrie Montgomery, director of the Hamblen County Health Department, said the health department currently has enough vaccines to last until Friday, and is not taking appointments past that point.

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“We’re at the point now where it’s strictly by appointment,” Montgomery said.

The Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force met Wednesday virtually and most of the discussion centered around vaccinations, which started almost two weeks ago in Hamblen County.

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The health department has said they have vaccinated more than 1,400 people in the last two weeks.

As of Wednesday, the state reported a total of 734 active cases and 91 deaths in Hamblen County.

The health department has been taking appointments since last week for those who fit in the categories of 1a1, 1a2 and 75 years and older. The 1a1 and 1a2 categories cover first responders and about every healthcare worker or related field to healthcare.

The first day for vaccinating those 75 and older was on Saturday and Montgomery said the health department saw heavy numbers of those walking in.

“We had so many show up without appointments,” she said. “It was overwhelming.”

She said since then the amount of walkups has decreased as they have educated people to try and call the East Tennessee Regional Health office hotline at 865-549-5343.

She said on Wednesday morning those waiting had appointments.

“It was much more efficient,” she said.

At this point, Montgomery said the health department is vaccinating about 50 people per hour.

She pointed out that the health department is doing approximately three jobs at this point: its regular program, vaccinations and testing.

“We are offering some form of COVID testing every day,” she said.

On site testing is being conducted from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the health department is offering self-tests.

Montgomery said the health department is quickly trying to work on those in the 1a1, 1a2 and 75 and older age groups to get to the next phase, which includes vaccinations of all school employees.

Once they get to the school phase, things may be different. She said they may go to the schools themselves.

“We’re probably going to go off-site for the schools,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said he had heard that school nurses could conduct vaccinations and asked Montgomery if that would help.

“You’re not allowing school nurses to give vaccinations are you?” he asked. “Or are you?”

Montgomery said there is a training program in place that school nurses could become certified. But, she said they have not yet determined whether it would be beneficial. The largest problem isn’t actually giving the vaccination, but handling the vaccine itself, which the two approved – Pfizer and Moderna – have to be kept at different temperatures. Pfizer in particular is kept at an extremely cold temperature and requires to be stored in dry ice.

“We are patiently waiting,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery also reported that the vaccines coming in have not been routine shipments, but more scattered. There are also concerns the vaccines could be limited for a few weeks because vaccinations at long-term care facilities are expected to start next week.

Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems officials, though, said they are in the midst of talking to their parent company, Covenant Health, to see if they would be able to give extra vaccines of Pfizer to the health department.

Aundrea Mills, chief nursing officer for MHHS, said they have been giving vaccinations for the last several weeks and will begin the second rounds in the next two weeks. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots.

Mills said there has been a tremendous amount of healthcare workers get vaccinated.

“We’re having a great turnout and we hope this will encourage the public as well,” she said.