TENNESSEE (WJHL) — Tennessee health officials are rolling out a statewide online COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system. This is in an effort to adjust to the long lines and wait times for those who are 75 and older waiting in frustration to receive a vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccine online appointment portal is expected to go live as early as next week. It will be similar to what Rutherford County has in place.
“This is an effort to minimize the number of people who will wait in line for hours and hours and then sometimes could be turned away due to exhausted inventory,” Piercey said.
All vaccinations done by county health departments will be scheduled ahead of time, for Tennesseans 75 and older.
“75 and older citizens contribute to more than 50% of our hospitalizations and making vaccines available to them is going to be very important in curbing the caseload in our state,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.
Lee said the biggest barrier right now is the limited supply of vaccines.
“We have vaccinated 215,000 Tennesseans, which is approximately 3% of our population,” Piercey said. “On that dashboard, you’ll see that broken down by county, and some counties are approaching or even have exceeded the 7% mark.”
However, compared to other states, Tennessee is ranked 8th in the United States in first doses administered per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“So, our goal: we can’t control the supply and so we order every single dose that is made available to us as soon as it is made available,” Piercey said. “Then our goal is to get it into an arm as soon as it gets into the state.”
While those who are 65 and older wait their turn to get vaccinated, Gov. Lee stressed those who do test positive for COVID-19 but are not sick, should seek therapeutic treatment from their health care provider.
“We have available in this state, therapeutics: monoclonal antibodies that are very effective, especially for those that are older and have co-morbidities. In treating COVID, once someone has become positive with COVID, but has not become sick enough to go to the hospital, it’s that interim period where monoclonal antibodies are most effective,” Lee said.
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Tennessee health officials are also trying to get the word out about, those 65 and older, to seek treatment if they test positive for COVID-19. Piercey mentioned the state has plenty of therapeutic treatment.
Not only does seeking therapeutic treatment help with patient outcomes, but it also helps with hospital demand as well. Piercey said oftentimes, many Tennesseans do not ask for monoclonal antibodies, which can help the immune system fight off viruses. When they do, they are at a point where it’s too late to be effective.
“These therapeutics are upward of 85%-90% effective at preventing progression to severe disease, so that means almost all people who take them in time have a very, very reduced chance of being in the hospital,” Piercy said.
The state officials stated Tennesseans need to contact their health care providers about this. They said the treatment is important for those 65 and older who test positive for COVID-19 but are not yet experiencing symptoms.
State health officials also said, Friday, that people in long-term care facilities and over the age of 75 are scheduled to start receiving COVID-19 vaccines next week. They explained that this group is receiving a ‘lower priority’ in long-term care, but because they are not at risk but because they are taking the risk-based approach.
“While long-term care residents are at higher risk than those in the community at large, those in assisted living are more independent and less medically fragile than those in skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes.” Piercey said, “Those in assisted living facilities are scheduled to begin vaccination at the middle of next week. Could be sooner in some instances. Those are also through CVS and Walgreen’s and also will be reflected on our dashboard.”
More than 90% of long-term care facilities in the state are partnered through the federal partnership with CVS and Walgreen’s, with the remainder through local independent pharmacies.
“We have currently allocated about 96% doses to that partnership and that allocation will continue through the end of the month,” Piercey said. “When we do get some allocation from the state, we do have to take some off the top to ensure our long-term care facilities are going to have the vaccine. So far, about half of the skilled nursing facilities- which is the highest level of acuity basically the sickest people in the long-term care spectrum- about half of those facilities have already been completed by CVS and Walgreen’s.”