The Tennessee Department of Health announced Tuesday that it will start allowing teachers and those 65 and older to register for vaccinations.
Vaccinations for these groups can start Monday.
Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said that was welcome news as teachers within the county have been waiting for weeks to get vaccinated.
“We’re very pleased the state has gone onto the next phase,” Perry said.
The switch comes as some regions were able to vaccinate teachers, while others were not. The Northeast Tennessee Region, including Hawkins and Greene counties, started vaccinating teachers early.
Several Hamblen County teachers went to surrounding counties in order to get vaccinated.
The new directive means all counties in Tennessee will be on the same level.
With the state going to phase 1b that means teachers, staff and child care workers will be able to get vaccinated.
“Our teachers have been doing everything asked of them and they are now getting basic protection,” Perry said.
GO here for the new registration site.
Perry said he plans to take the vaccine himself, but will wait until all teachers who wish to get the shot are inoculated first.
He said he believes there will be a good turnout of staff to get vaccinated. More people are starting to get comfortable with the vaccination, he said.
He estimated out of the 1,400 staff members the school system employs anywhere from 800 to 1,000 could get vaccinated.
“It may be more than 1, 000,” he said.
How teachers are vaccinated remains to be seen.
Sherrie Montgomery, director for the Hamblen County Health Department, said she will have discussions with school administrators on how to proceed with vaccinations.
“We will work with the school system to see what the best arrangements are to get it done as soon as possible,” she said.
Montgomery said at one point there was discussions about conducting a large pod for a mass vaccination.
She said the health department is getting weekly shipments of vaccine and sees no problems with being able to vaccinate teachers and those 65 and older.
A new appointment system went live this week that the state unveiled. The new system no longer has a waiting list and people will be able to make appointments for the vaccinations. Montgomery said the Hamblen County Health Department will work on their prior waiting list first and then start on the appointments.
State health officials said there has been some disparity between areas as the state continues to try and vaccinate the population.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced the change in a virtual news conference on Tuesday while acknowledging that some counties have already begun vaccinating those groups.
Piercey said some of the larger metro areas of the state are moving slower on vaccinating their populations. While the vaccines are allocated to Tennessee’s 95 counties based on population, Piercey said some of the rural counties have a much lower rate of people wanting to be vaccinated and are developing a surplus.
“That is why we are pushing further, faster in those counties with the phases, because they have people who are eligible but don’t want it,” Piercey said.
Piercey said supply is the limiting factor in getting people vaccinated in the large counties, not staffing.
Although she did not have an exact number, Piercey said she expects next week’s allocation of vaccines to Tennessee to be about 10% higher than in recent weeks, increasing to around 110,000 doses.
In addition, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be approved soon, and Piercey said Tennessee could begin receiving that as early as the first week of March. Tennessee currently is distributing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The new scheduling platform the state unveiled will only include health departments. It does not include eligible pharmacies. Anyone wishing to make a pharmacy appointment must contact the business.
Those people who do not have internet access can schedule by phone.