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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Shelby County health experts concerned with COVID-19 vaccinations slowing, virus spreading of late

As vaccine challenges intensify, organizers struggle with new ways to encourage more shots in arms.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "We may be tired of it, the weather may be nice and you might like to believe this is over, but the data says otherwise," David Sweat with the Shelby County Health Department said.

That's the warning Tuesday from the Shelby County Health Department.

Even though daily reported COVID-19 cases dropped in recent days, the local transmission rate is again as high as it was during surges last summer and the holiday season.

"We know in fact that the epidemic is growing, that is what we are concerned about," Sweat said.

On top of that, fewer in Shelby County are taking advantage of the COVID-19 vaccines, with participation plummeting 35% this past week compared to two weeks ago.

"We are going to continue to look at our operations, obviously with the capacity to do 60,000 but only 20,000 people showing up every week we want to make sure we are as efficient and effective as we possibly can be," City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said.

McGowen said while weekly federal doses at Midtown Memphis' FEMA vaccine site won't be reduced, the daily workflow and military staffing could. 

"There is no intention at this point but we talk about every day what our next steps might be so we are not wasting manpower unnecessarily," McGowen said.

McGowen conceded local organizers continue to brainstorm new ways to turn the tide of declining demand for vaccines, including the possibility of making more locations first-come, first-serve.

"We will consider whether or if we need to have appointments at all of our sites," McGowen said,

Supply and demand challenges at Memphis' FEMA site isn't unique, as McGowen said currently, just two of the more than 30 in operation nationwide are meeting their weekly goals.