Why getting a COVID vaccine in the Chattanooga area may be harder this fall

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Chattanooga resident Ashley Hafling looks on as pharmacist Jordan Owen administers a vaccine to her son Levi, 15, during a drive-through flu shot clinic at Mt. Canaan Church on Sept. 23. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee partnered with the church, and pharmacists with Walgreens administered flu and COVID-19 vaccines.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Chattanooga resident Ashley Hafling looks on as pharmacist Jordan Owen administers a vaccine to her son Levi, 15, during a drive-through flu shot clinic at Mt. Canaan Church on Sept. 23. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee partnered with the church, and pharmacists with Walgreens administered flu and COVID-19 vaccines.


Those seeking COVID-19 vaccines in the Chattanooga region may have to wait longer than expected as nationwide news reports indicate demand for the shots is outpacing supply at some pharmacies.

Phil Smith, a pharmacist at Access Family Pharmacy in Hixson, said that as of Thursday the pharmacy has been able to accommodate everyone who wants a vaccine. But at this point, Access only has Pfizer's shot for ages 12 and up in stock.

"We've got Pfizer, but the Moderna rollout has been messy," Smith said in a phone interview, noting that the pharmacy is still waiting for its shipment of Moderna shots to arrive.

Unless something changes, Smith said the pharmacy has plenty of Pfizer's vaccine on hand and demand has been steady. There were eight people waiting in line to get a shot in Hixson on Thursday afternoon.

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Unlike previous COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, during which the government purchased the vaccines, this season's is in the hands of the private sector. That means pharmacies are having to buy the vaccines and wait to be reimbursed.

The vaccines cost $140 a dose and only come in packs of 10, which amounts to $1,400 per pack, Smith said.

"That's a lot of money you're having to front," he said.

Given that the demand for the vaccines is uncertain, Smith said there's an extra burden on pharmacies to shoulder potential losses, which is likely leading to smaller inventories.

"You don't want to get stuck with these things. They just don't have a really long expiration date," he said. "You don't want to order 5,000 shots and then you're stuck with 4,000 of them, because you take it in the teeth. I'm sure that is contributing to people ordering less."

Updated COVID-19 vaccines for people with health insurance, whether private or government-sponsored, are covered at no out-of-pocket cost for the individual -- even if they receive the shot at a pharmacy that's out of network.

People without health insurance can get the vaccine free through a temporary federal program called Bridge Access.

John Hawbaker, a spokesperson for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said via email that COVID-19 vaccines were made available at the insurer's drive-through flu shot clinic last weekend.

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"Roughly a quarter of our Chattanooga flu clinic visitors requested both vaccines," he said, adding that "based on what we're hearing, our BCBST members have been able to get the updated COVID vaccine. ... We'll continue to monitor supply in the area."

A Hamilton County Health Department spokesperson did not respond to questions Friday about the area's current COVID-19 vaccine supply.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.


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