Pipkin Building undergoes changes as opening of Memphis federal vaccination site nears


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Construction crew activity is underway at the fairgrounds to turn the Pipkin Building into the only federally run mass vaccination site in Tennessee.

“It is, overall, it’s a great thing,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, Baptist Hospital infectious disease specialist. “We are giving potentially up to 3000 vaccines a day, seven days a week, and that does not affect the supply that’s been giving to Shelby County and the state already.”

This week, health experts, along with city and county leaders, said the Pipkin Building setup will be a massive undertaking just for the vaccination tent alone.

“If you’ve been by the fairgrounds, you’ll also see it requires us to erect an enormous tent on the fairgrounds site immediately adjacent to the Pipkin Building. This is the size of a football field,” said Doug McGowen, City of Memphis COO.

The Pipkin Building had already been a high-volume vaccination site in Shelby County. Now instead of operating six days a week, it’ll be open seven days a week, 12 hours day, beginning next Wednesday.

Other physical changes will involve drive through and walk-up lanes.

“The expansion will be going from one drive through lane to two drive through lanes, but to be clear at Pipkin, there’s still the walkup option for those who can’t sit in the car, and people who are transported can walk into the Pipkin Building to receive a vaccine,” McGowen said.

Industrial size freezers will be brought in for storage of the vaccine, and FEMA is also sending additional personal to assist with getting shots into the arms.

The goal is to reach underserved communities.

“We are distributing billions of dollars into communities disproportionally affected to help mount the most aggressive equitable vaccination campaign of the modern times,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky.

“It is our way out,” Threlkeld said. “There’s no question. It is a challenge. We need to actually get people to take the vaccine.”

The Pipkin Building site will open next Wednesday, April 7th, with the potential to vaccinate 21,000 more people a week. 

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