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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Nurse Debbi Redman administers a dose of vaccine to Cleveland resident Martha Mitchell at the vaccination site at First Baptist Cleveland in Cleveland, Tenn. on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

Southeast Tennessee health departments surrounding Hamilton County are now offering early morning and evening appointments at their COVID-19 vaccine sites to better accommodate people who work during regular business hours.

The new extended hours options apply to the 10 regional counties whose health departments are overseen by the Tennessee Department of Health, which includes Bledsoe, Bradley, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties.

Southeast Regional Director Glenn Czarnecki said the schedule for each site changes based on need, so the best way to find when shots are being offered is to complete the COVID-19 vaccine registration process online at vaccinate.tn.gov. After filling out the online forms, users will be directed to a search tool that allows them to find a health department site nearby, and all available time slots will be shown. Those without internet access can call 866-442-5301 to schedule an appointment.

"Every county has either an a.m. or p.m. session, or both," Czarnecki said. "We've kind of based it on where we did see the demand, and we've now expanded those efforts wherever it seemed like folks prefer to come. If it was a morning session, then we've expanded our morning effort."

For example, Bradley County is providing vaccines on some mornings and some evenings, whereas some of the smaller counties only offer one or the other.

"We're really trying to increase capacity in the next few weeks because we feel like, since opening up the 16 plus [age group], we're going to hit that next big wave," he said.

Tennessee, and in particular many rural counties, has lagged behind the nation in its rate of COVID-19 vaccinations per capita.

(READ MORE: Tennessee's low COVID-19 vaccination rate makes herd immunity less attainable; here's why that matters)

Rae Bond, chair of the COVID-19 Joint Task Force in Hamilton County, said it's important for residents of other counties to be vaccinated, too, since the pandemic's effects are not limited to county lines. Typically, at least half of Hamilton County's coronavirus hospitalizations are residents of other counties.

"We hope that our messaging is seen and heard in other counties and that we can do a lot to overcome vaccine hesitancy," Bond said during a news briefing Tuesday.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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