Shelby County vaccination efforts continue as anniversary of county’s first confirmed COVID-19 case looms


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The vaccination effort in Shelby County is ramping up as it prepares to enter a new phase for those who can get the vaccine.

So far, more than 159,000 vaccine doses have been administered.

Almost a year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Shelby County, health leaders are looking back at the challenges faced.

“We had the virus introduced into the community,” said David Sweat, Shelby County Health Department deputy director. “It was brand new. It was scary. We didn’t know quite was going on. We made every effort to contain it.”

A year later, they’re hoping better testing and vaccine distribution means we’ve seen the worst of the COVID surge.

“The only thing right now that could really change that is either we prematurely, as a community and country, declare victory when we haven’t won and open everything up too fast and not enough people have been vaccinated, and we generate another wave,” Sweat said.

To make sure more people have access to vaccines, the City of Memphis has taken over job, but with recent guidance from the CDC and the state.

“We also had visitors to their city sites this week from the CDC and state of Tennessee,” said Memphis Fire Chief Gina Sweat. “They came to tour our facilities and toured our processes and gave us some advice.”

One problem at vaccination sites has been the large number of no-shows.

“If you have made an appointment and you’re not going to keep it, if you could cancel it, that gives a spot that’s open for another member of our community that needs the shot,” Sweat said.

Next week, Shelby County moves into phase 1C for individuals age 16 and older with chronic health conditions.

“As the phases open up, that definitely means more members of our community will have access to the vaccinations, but no, we won’t be requiring documentation on site of the vaccine,” Sweat said.

As for letting down our guard in Shelby County, health leaders say now is not the time because of new COVID strains are being detected.

“We are seeing an increase in the UK strain. We’re also seeing a few from Brazil. We’ve also seen a new one from Mexico,” Sweat said. “So, we are doing enough surveillance to find these strains.”

There have been more than 88,000 COVID cases reported in Shelby County, 129 new ones since yesterday. More than 1,500 have died because of the virus.

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