Hamilton County closes COVID-19 vaccine distribution site hours before vaccines begin as high demand continues

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Members of the National Guard check Hamilton County residents paperwork to make sure they are elligible to get the Pfizer Coronavirus vaccine at the Tennessee River Park on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Just minutes after 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, the line for COVID-19 vaccines in Hamilton County reached capacity. The available doses were all spoken for nearly three hours before the vaccinations were scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., marking another day in Chattanooga when demand for the vaccine far outpaced local supply.

Approximately 1,000 doses were available Wednesday only for people in the eligible groups - which include health care workers, first responders and residents aged 75 or older - with last names starting with the letters L through Z at the drive-thru distribution site at 4501 Amnicola Highway.

A similar scene played out along the river Tuesday when the approximately 1,000 doses available for eligible people with last names starting with the letters A through K. Cars lined up for the distribution site hours before it opened and vaccines ran out shortly after.

The Hamilton County Health Department has not announced the next day vaccines will be available. A news release from the Tennessee Department of Health issued late Monday said "vaccine supplies remain limited at this time, and availability of vaccines varies by county."

Vaccine rollouts across the nation have been plagued by scarce supplies and logistical challenges. Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines, which are the only two COVID-19 vaccines now authorized for use in the United States, must be stored in ultra-cold temperatures, which creates an additional obstacle when organizing mass vaccination efforts compared to most other vaccines.

Meanwhile, the pandemic in Hamilton County continues to break records. The county is averaging 439 new cases a day in the past week and has 3,929 active cases as of Tuesday. Both figures are records.

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