This story was updated at 5:58 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, with more information.
Hamilton County will begin vaccinating people ages 70 and older despite the county receiving no additional COVID-19 vaccines from the state, which announced Tuesday it expects a 15% increase in weekly vaccine shipments.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger reported the eligibility change Thursday during a presentation streamed on YouTube. He said the county would follow guidance that the state issued Monday asking counties to drop the eligibility age from 75 to 70.
Becky Barnes, administrator for the Hamilton County Health Department, said the decision provides continuity in eligibility across the state. Moving the age bracket makes around 16,200 more people eligible alongside the approximately 26,500 people age 75 and older in the county, Barnes said.
"We've always wanted to move and open up to all tiers as soon as possible. But we also wanted to give ages 75 and above ample opportunity to get vaccinated," Barnes said. "The vaccine supply has always been the problem."
Hamilton County receives around 4,200 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a week and is not expected to see an increase in the shipment sizes, Barnes said.
The local announcement provides specifics that the Tennessee Department of Health did not provide Tuesday when it said it expects a 15% increase in the size of weekly shipments from the federal government, a bump from around 80,000 to 93,000 a week, through February.
"Sounds great," Coppinger said Thursday. "The only problem is it didn't help us because we're using Pfizer vaccine. The increase was with Moderna. So, as a result, we're still getting consistently the number we have been getting. But we are proud the state's getting more and it's helping other communities throughout the state of Tennessee."
The state health department did not disclose which counties would not receive a boost during its announcement this week.
On Wednesday, the Times Free Press requested data from the Tennessee Department of Health about the possible increase in first-round doses Hamilton County should expect following the state's announcement. A spokesperson from the state responded that such data was "not available at this time."
Nearly 30,000 Hamilton County residents have been vaccinated, according to data released Thursday from the county health department. The new data shows 64% of doses have gone to white residents with 7% being given to Black residents. Another 16% of the doses were not assigned a racial category as of Thursday.
Just over 400 doses, or 2% of the total, have been given to Hispanic residents in the county, a population that was hit especially hard in the early months of the pandemic. This week, the county announced a partnership with Clinica Medicos to begin providing doses to better reach underserved communities.
Hamilton County is averaging 122 new COVID-19 cases a day in the past week, a figure that was nearly four times higher a month ago. As of Thursday, 97 people were hospitalized with the virus with 44 people in the intensive care unit. The county added 10 new deaths from the virus, bringing the county total to 394.
Fewer people in the Chattanooga area are being tested for the virus, Barnes said. In mid-January, the county was averaging around 1,400 tests a day but on Thursday the county averaged 918 tests a day in the past week.
Barnes and Coppinger urged local residents to avoid Super Bowl parties or other gatherings this weekend. Such gatherings with people of different households could spread the virus and risk the progress the county is making in slowing the spread.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.