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"Foot on the Pedal" Phase Begins in City's Race to COVID Finish Line


With more than 52,000 vaccination appointments scheduled for next week, City of Memphis chief operating officer Doug McGowen described the city's coming six-week immunization push as putting "our foot on the pedal." 

"We are really positioning ourselves to take the next big step in our capacity," McGowen said at Thursday's Joint Covid Task Force press briefing. "It's also going to affect our speed and the volume at which we get vaccines in the arms of people in our community."

In addition to scheduled pop-up sites at local churches, a windfall of additional vaccines will arrive next week courtesy of the federal government. Memphis is one of three U.S. cities where FEMA announced it would operate a joint facility to speed up vaccine delivery. 

A football field-sized drive-through tent is going up this weekend adjacent to the Pipkin Building, where the city and health department are already delivering more than a thousand vaccines daily. That will bring 21,000 new weekly available doses to the county. The site will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week for the next six weeks. It should be fully operational by next Wednesday. 

Though no completion date has been set for the campaign, the goal is to get 700,000 residents vaccinated, which health officer David Sweat described as the "bare minimum" to reach herd immunity, or the point when COVID-19 would pose a negligible threat to public safety.

But that still requires that nearly every person over the age of 16 get vaccinated. So far 110,196 people are fully protected, having received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson drug.

Time is of the essence, however, as new viral strains take root in Shelby County. The so-called U.K. variant, which is spreading rapidly here, is 50 percent more transmissible and 30 percent more lethal, Sweat said. 

People younger than 45 are its primary spreaders, and now that all adults are eligible for vaccines, Sweat implored the younger demographic to start making appointments.  

"If you are less than 45 years of age, we specifically want to encourage you to come out and get vaccinated," Sweat said. 

Reporting from the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Christopher has covered Memphis news, arts, culture and politics for more than 20 years in print and on the radio. He is currently WKNO's News Director and Senior Producer at the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting. Join his conversations about the Memphis arts scene on the WKNO Culture Desk Facebook page.