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State drills vaccine events in all 95 counties ahead of anticipated COVID-19 shot

The "Fight Flu TN" event has served a double purpose for years, helping the state prepare in case of a pandemic.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In all 95 counties across Tennessee Thursday, the state's mass flu vaccination event served as a dry run for an anticipated COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

"It gives us a chance to practice our emergency response skills," Knox Co. Health Department Director Dena Mashburn said. 

Even if a shot for the coronavirus hasn't been approved yet, she's part of the team already working to plan its distribution. 

"I'm on several calls a day now involving COVID vaccine," Mashburn said. "And on every one of them there’s a new addition of information."

But the county's top nurse says the COVID-19 vaccine will have unique challenges. For one: every patient will likely have to get two shots several weeks apart. 

"It primes your immune system and then the second one really kicks in and allows your immune system to work," she said. 

At Thursday's event in Knoxville's Chilhowee Park, modified refrigerators kept flu vaccine at near frozen temps, but it might not be enough for some COVID shots. 

The Pfizer vaccine in particular is real finicky. It requires close monitoring to stay at more than 50 degrees below zero. 

The state also wants to know who gets every COVID shot. So at Thursday's event, workers practiced putting that information into a statewide immunization database. 

Of course, there's no authorized vaccine yet. But it seems there will be soon. 

"I’m feeling better better and better about them the more I hear about them," Mashburn said of the vaccines. "The studies are looking pretty good and it looks like a really safe vaccine that’s pretty effective. So I’m becoming more confident in that realm."

In the meantime, she urged people to get the shot available now. 

"Please get your flu vaccine. It really can help as we see these numbers increase and we move through this recent spike."

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