NASHVILLE, Tenn. – During a recent All In: Conversations on Health event, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, M.D. and Metro Nashville Board of Health Chair Alex Jahangir, M.D. joined NashvilleHealth Chairman Bill Frist, M.D. to discuss the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout and future strategy for broad distribution.
Nearly 300 leaders from health, business, academia and government attended the virtual event hosted by NashvilleHealth and the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD), with support from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. View the event in its entirety here.
“The rollout is going well, we just need more product,” Piercey said. She added that while the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is unprecedented, the state department of health has for several years proactively planned and practiced for massive flu response. This work has helped to set the stage for COVID-19 vaccinations, but challenges continue with supply.
Jahangir shared that the city’s goal is to partner with a variety of organizations to distribute vaccine as more doses become available. “I’m proud to partner with FQHCs, our safety net clinics and Meharry.” He also cited successful MPHD vaccine drives at the Lentz Public Health Center and weekend events hosted by Meharry Medical College.
Piercey shared that more than 1,800 vaccination partnerships are in development across the state, including retail settings such as 120 Wal-Mart stores. “The more providers we have offering the vaccine means more access for Tennesseans.” Counties have utilized a number of different scheduling platforms, from Eventbrite to REDCap surveys. However, Piercey said the state was moving toward a more robust online scheduling system. Both Piercey and Jahangir cited efforts to contact seniors by phone and partner with senior centers to reach those who may not have internet access.
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy and ensuring vulnerable populations receive the vaccine were noted as priorities by both Piercey and Jahangir. “We need to do better. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. We must partner with groups that have the trust and the access in these communities,” Jahangir said.
Piercey and Jahangir said it’s critical to follow a vaccine prioritization plan based on federal guidance, risk indicators and local demographics when distributing the vaccine locally and statewide. Piercey added that mass vaccination programs of the past would not work today due to limited vaccine inventories. When asked about how quickly new vaccine tiers would open, she said it depended on supply and uptake. “We are constantly evaluating how swiftly we can move through phases. We want to keep moving and expand eligibility.”
Thinking about the coming months, Piercey said that later this year we could reach a point where supply exceeds demand, and the process will be managed by health care professionals rather than the government.
Frist closed the event out by noting the significance of public health. “This illustrates the importance of our public health system. Now people realize there is nothing more critical if you are talking about health and well-being than supporting our public health infrastructure.”
For more information about COVID-19, testing centers, vaccination sites and other resources, please visit www.covid19.tn.gov
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