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State Teases Vaccines for All as Shelby County Looks to Speed Up Delivery

Shelby County Health Department's Facebook page



“Open season” for COVID-19 vaccines, a reference to the term used by the nation’s top medical adviser, might come earlier than expected in Shelby County.

The Tennessee Department of Heath said in a statement Friday that moving forward—with more details to come on Monday—counties will be able to set their own timelines for who gets vaccines based on availability and demand. 

“As Tennessee continues working to protect those most at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 and provide vaccinations as quickly as possible, counties may progress through each of the phases as vaccine supply allows,” a statement from the department reads.

Shelby County appears poised to open up unrestricted adult eligibility sooner rather than later but has not named an official start date.


A spokesperson for the City of Memphis, which now manages the county's vaccine campaign, says an announcement could come Monday at the earliest, after the state finalizes its plan. 


"Mayor [Jim] Strickland did encourage the state to open up vaccination to all adults, so we are hopeful this will mean more people can be vaccinated, sooner," Ursula Madden wrote in an email. 



County Mayor Lee Harris welcomed the state’s new posture.

“As vaccine supply has increased, we have reached the point when it’s a good idea to provide access to all,” he said in a tweet on Friday, urging the entire local adult population to seek out an opportunity to get a shot.

Shelby County is slightly behind the state's percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine. While 18.6 percent of Tennesseans have, 18.3 percent of the population locally has, as of Friday afternoon.

Officials said this week they feared people vulnerable to the disease because of a health condition were not signing up for a shot because they didn’t know they were eligible. As of Thursday, anyone over 55 and those considered critical infrastructure workers can get in line.


Asked if rushing to open lines to the general population might mean some of the state's defined priority groups such as grocery store workers could have to wait longer to secure a vaccine appointment, Madden said the city isn't " leaving people behind in this effort to fight the virus."

"The City has demonstrated, through action and data, that we are working hard to give everyone an opportunity to get vaccinated," she said, noting that efforts to innoculate the homebound and people experiencing homeless are now underway.  

Madden said it's too soon to determine if more mass vaccination sites will be needed to match demand. The city currently operates five primary drive-up locations. 

This post has been updated with comments from the City of Memphis. 


Katie is a freelance contributor to WKNO. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org