COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Southeast Tennessee fuels long lines, frustrated people and hopes for a smoother operation

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Hamilton County residents wait in line on Amnicola Parkway to get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at the Tennessee Riverpark on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Chattanooga.

The bumpy rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Tennessee and across the nation is leaving residents frustrated and confused.

"It's not fair to the people, because whoever is fastest or happens to see it on the internet gets in line, but the disadvantaged groups in the county and the ones that live at the far end, they get left out," said Steve Lamb, director of the Marion County Emergency Management Agency. "It's not an equitable process."

Vaccines were distributed in counties surrounding Chattanooga on Saturday, though several ran out of doses well before the stations were scheduled to close. Lines of cars mirrored similar scenes in Chattanooga last week as demand for the vaccine overwhelmed supply.

"We knew in advance that we were going to have 100 doses on Saturday," Lamb said. "And based on demand it ran just like we thought it would. It was chaos for two-and-a-half hours, and we ran out of medicine. The first car showed up at 4:30 in the morning, according to the police department. When I got there a little after 7, we already had more cars in line than we had vaccines for."

Lamb said officials in Marion and some other counties are working to set up a meeting with state health officials to find solutions because Saturday's vaccination effort left many people without access.

The Tennessee Department of Health did not respond in time for publication about when the next round of vaccines will be available in the counties surrounding Chattanooga, as well as how many doses will be distributed. The department also did not respond about possible changes in distribution.

On Monday, vaccines were not available in Bradley, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Meigs, Polk and Sequatchie counties, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Bledsoe, McMinn and Rhea counties did have available vaccines. People are directed to call their local county health departments for information on distribution.

Are you eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The following list contains all the currently eligible groups in Hamilton County as of Jan. 4, according to the county health department:* All health care workers with direct exposure to patients or potentially infectious materials (including hospital staff, outpatient providers, pharmacy staff, patient transport, therapists, janitors, dental providers, behavioral health providers, laboratory staff working with COVID-19 specimens, funeral/mortuary workers)* Home health care staff* COVID-19 mass testing site staff* Student health providers* Staff and residents of long-term-care facilities* First responders* Individuals over age 18 who cannot live independently due to health conditions or disability* Anyone 75 years or older (must be Hamilton County resident)To find if you are eligible in your county, visit the state health department’s website at

Vaccine distribution across the country is well below expected benchmarks as supply chains and poor communication have left many Americans discouraged. The Operation Warp Speed goal of having 20 million vaccines distributed by the end of 2020 was not met as just over 3 million vaccinations were completed by New Year's Day.

More than 250,000 doses were distributed so far to Tennessee, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, as of Jan. 1, nearly 127,000 Tennessee residents received a COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. In Southeast Tennessee, Hamilton County reported 1.57% of its population vaccinated with the first dose. Marion County leads the region percentage-wise with 2.24% of its population having received the first dose, according to the state health department.

(READ MORE: Where are you in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Hamilton County, and when can you expect to receive a dose?)

The Hamilton County Health Department announced Monday it would distribute vaccines for those eligible on Tuesday and Wednesday based on an alphabetical system by last name.

On Dec. 31, the day after Hamilton County expanded eligibility for the vaccine, lines for the Amnicola Highway inoculation station were so long people were directed to come back later. Health officials then had to turn people away because there was no more vaccine available that day, only to later discover unused doses after the station closed.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at