UPDATE: As of 6:03 a.m., the Hamilton County Health Department has closed vaccines for the day (Jan. 6).
Demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Hamilton County outpaced supply again Tuesday, forcing some vaccine seekers to leave empty-handed despite a new alphabetical distribution strategy meant to shorten lines.
Only 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 A through K could receive the vaccine in Hamilton County on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, eligible people with last names starting with the letters L through Z can receive the vaccine between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m at the health department's drive-thru distribution site at 4501 Amnicola Highway. However, the health department only has about 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine available to give — approximately the same amount as Tuesday — meaning it's likely supplies will run out again before closing time.
Health department administrator Becky Barnes said via email that the department typically administers about 150-200 doses an hour depending on staffing and weather.
By mid-morning Tuesday, the Hamilton County Health Department announced over social media that all its available COVID-19 vaccine doses had been allotted for the day. Those who were waiting in the line of cars that trailed past Chattanooga State Community College were told they would need to come back another day, which has not yet been determined.
The release states that more dates will be announced as new shipments arrive.
"The Health Department is unable to predict how many doses are shipped to them, and the amount varies from shipment to shipment," reads a news release from the health department.
Barnes said the health department has been receiving fewer vaccine doses than originally anticipated from the Tennessee Department of Health.
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.
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." The department's website lists the current phase of each county.
"As county health departments vaccinate phase 1a2 and begin to vaccinate those aged 75 years and older, pharmacies will also be administering vaccines for long-term care facility residents and employees. Although this may result in smaller shipments to county health departments, it is critical to get vaccines to those who are [at] the highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 as quickly as possible," the news release states.
During a news briefing after a COVID-19 Joint Task Force meeting Tuesday, Kerry Hayes, chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, urged people to remember "we're still in the very early days" of vaccine distribution.
"As we get more vaccine, the plans will change. We will make sure that everyone who wants it can get it," Hayes said. "What we're encountering now is a supply problem, and the more vaccine that becomes available, the easier the operational matters will be to figure out."
If you are going to Hamilton County's drive-thru vaccination site on Wednesday, the health department shared the following tips and updates in a news release Tuesday:
* Enter at Chattanooga State Community College's main entrance, 4501 Amnicola Highway, Chattanooga, TN 37406.
* Wednesday's vaccination line will be directed through Chattanooga State's entrance and will not be permitted to build beyond the intersection of Amnicola Highway and the Power Exchange Center at Lake Junior.
* A law enforcement vehicle will be stationed at the intersection to ensure traffic does not continue onto Highway 153.
* Once inside the entrance of Chattanooga State, people waiting in line for the vaccine will be vetted according to eligibility status, given an intake form, and directed to the Tennessee Riverpark vaccination site.
* The line forms early. Plan to be in your vehicle for multiple hours.
* Bring the appropriate documentation, which includes proof of residency in Hamilton County or proof of work eligibility requirements, such as a work ID, badge, pay stub or letter from their employer in Hamilton County.
* Arrive with a full tank of gas.
* Use the restroom and eat before arriving.
* Bring snacks and a bottle of water.
* Wear a mask if you leave your car to use the restroom.
* Wear a mask while receiving the vaccine.
* Wear clothing that allows easy access to the upper arm.
* No appointment is necessary.
* The current phase and age bracket groups will be updated regularly on the Health Department's COVID-19 vaccine webpage, social media, and email newsletter, for which you can sign up here. To speak with a Health Department representative, call the hotline at 423-209-8383.
Contact Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.