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

Shelby County COVID-19 vaccinations are ramping up ahead of new phase starting next week

While vaccine numbers improve, health experts warn the public to remain cautious as new COVID-19 variant strains are detected locally.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — "We've identified a lot of people and putting those pieces in place," Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat said.

Things are ramping up for the city of Memphis Thursday, one full week after it took over all vaccine site operations from the Shelby County Health Department.

"It's a very meticulous process," Director Sweat said.

The local vaccine shakeup happened after Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said those with SCHD let 2,500 be discarded last month when taken out of cold storage improperly.

Director Sweat said the pressure is now on her team to not repeat those same mistakes across Shelby County.

"They monitor those coolers. They have digital thermometers inside them that they have to document on an hourly basis," Director Sweat said.

Beyond the proper care of vaccine supply, vaccine demand will surge starting Monday, when Shelby County begins phase 1c. Those eligible in 1c include those 16 or older with a list of high risk health conditions and those who are PREGNANT.

"As we receive additional vaccine from the state, we will be ramping up the pods and the scheduling and the number of appointments," Director Sweat said.

She did concede that appointments for 1c will not require proof of specific medical conditions - and essentially it's the honor system.

"We will not be requiring documentation on site, but what we will be requiring is in the system when you schedule an appointment, members will have to attest that they meet the conditions of this phase," Director Sweat said.

The Memphis fire director also addressed the issue of appointments not being entirely filled. According to city of Memphis data, around 12% of the 5,505 total appointment slots were no-shows.

"If you have made an appointment and you aren't able to keep it - if you could cancel it, that gives a spot for another member of our community," said Sweat.

The COVID-19 Joint Task Force continues to work with state on the launch of a new vaccine appointment software scheduled for March 15th. When that's online, it's expected those in Shelby County will be able to make a first and second dose appointment at the same time.

As of Thursday, Shelby County had vaccinated 16% towards the goal of 700,000 administered doses by August 1st.

"We can see the forest thinning out but we are not out of the woods," David Sweat with the Shelby County Health Department said. "The pandemic is not over and in this month we have Easter, we also have spring break." 

COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us getting the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a supply of white cells (our infection fighting cells) that will remember how to fight that virus in the future.