COVID-19 vaccinations have begun as the nation tries to tamp down a virus which has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
Tennessee received its first vaccine shipment Monday to be used as an emergency backup supply, according to the Department of Health.
The state is expecting to receive 56,550 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday, which will then be shipped Thursday to 28 sites to serve 74 hospitals.
Saint Thomas River Park Hospital CEO Dale Humphrey said only hospitals with more than 1,400 employees are being provided with the Pfizer vaccine at this point. In the local Saint Thomas network, that includes Saint Thomas West, Saint Thomas Rutherford and Saint Thomas Midtown.
Humphrey said those facilities will each be given 975 doses of the vaccine. He said medical professionals at River Park who are in direct contact with patients will have the option to take some of the available vaccines at one of those three facilities.
Only front-line healthcare workers and residents and staff members at long-term care facilities are eligible to get the vaccine at this point.
“It will probably be months before the general population can get vaccinated,” said Humphrey, who stressed a vaccination is badly needed. “All hospital beds are spoken for, not just in our system but everywhere. I’m afraid it will get worse before it gets better.”
“ERs never close and we can’t stop accepting sick people who need our care,” Humphrey continued. “If our volumes continue to increase, it’s going to be hairy. We’ll be putting people in hallways. We just hope people take the vaccine when it becomes available and it helps us get past this.”
The vaccine shipments are coming as the Tennessee Department of Health reports 8,251 new COVID cases in the state on Tuesday and 74 deaths.
Warren County had 712 active cases on Tuesday, an increase of 61% since Friday. Warren County is averaging 84.7 new confirmed COVID cases a day over the past seven days, according to the Department of Health.
“We have been preparing for months to distribute approved vaccines and we believe this will be a safe and effective tool in the fight against COVID-19,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey.
The Pfizer shot which is being distributed to hospitals requires two rounds, which means the people getting the vaccines now will then get a second shot in about three weeks.
Approval for a Moderna vaccine could take place later this week. According to a 46-page Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, health departments in all 95 Tennessee counties are expected to get the Moderna vaccine when it becomes available.