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Mid-South infectious disease expert wants vaccine rollout to happen much faster locally, nationwide

Updated: Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:43 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Shelby County has run into some problems.

People have reported long lines, confusion about necessary appointments and difficulties surrounding the health department vaccine hotline.

One local health expert says he’s getting frustrated with the initial rollout of the COVID-19 both locally and nationwide. He wants the process to be more transparent and he says it needs to happen much more quickly.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, only 126,887 Tennesseans have received a COVID-19 vaccination thus far, including only 1.17% of Shelby County.

A small number according to some health experts but compounding the problem, those statistics have not been updated since Friday.

Late Monday afternoon, the Shelby County Health Department announced they had vaccinated a total of 9,000 people in the span of seven days.

“More information is always better and it’s usually possible,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, Infectious Disease Expert Baptist Memorial Healthcare.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Threlkeld said he doesn’t like what he’s seen both locally and nationwide when it comes to the vaccine rollout thus far.

“We’ve gotta go faster,” said Threlkeld. “And our start, I would agree with you, has not been particularly auspicious. We need to work harder and we need to work smarter to accomplish this. We have the best logistics minds in the world in this very city!”

Threlkeld described the rollout in Shelby County as a “tough beginning.”

Over the weekend, there was confusion with some people coming to vaccine drive-thru centers without a necessary appointment causing hundreds of people to wait hours in line.

The health department vaccine hotline has also had difficulty with high call volumes and is currently shut down.

“I think everybody is appropriately a little frustrated,” said Threlkeld. “I mean it is a huge endeavor to undertake, to vaccinate everybody in the United States, 330 plus million people.”

At this time, everyone in group 1A1, which includes first responders, frontline health care workers and mortuary and funeral home employees can get a vaccine as well as those 75 years old and older – but you must have an appointment.

There are currently no more vaccine appointments available in Shelby County.

The health department closed both their vaccine drive-thru centers Monday and promised to release details about more vaccine events later in the week.

“The pace we have set in the first few weeks of this is certainly by anybody’s estimate unacceptable,” said Threlkeld.

The Shelby County Health Department responded Monday to our questions, in part, with this statement:

“We vaccinated more than 9,000 people at two sites in only 7 days. The vaccination teams were able to accomplish that despite rain, wind and cold weather. There are always lessons to be learned, but it’s important to remember that vaccinating the entire population of Shelby County will an enormous campaign that will likely take many months, or even a year to accomplish and we are only at the beginning. We ask the public to have patience and continue the course of masking, social distancing and limiting social gatherings, as they wait their turn to get the vaccine.”

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