Health officials giving out gift cards, waiving appointments to get more people vaccinated

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More than 200 new COVID-19 cases announced Thursday marked the highest number of new cases in Shelby County since mid-February.

The concerning uptick drove officials to stress the importance of vaccination again. Health Department officials released new data showing many ZIP codes in the western part of Shelby County lagging in vaccination rates. As a result, officials are getting creative to get people vaccinated.

“We’re going to have a few events this weekend,” said Chief Gina Sweat with the Memphis Fire Department.

Dashcam video showing the entry to the vaccination line at the Pipkin Building proves if you head over there, your chance to get a shot is wide open. One WREG employee was in and out in 15 minutes. Chief Sweat said they’re operating on an average 11-minute wait time.

Officials announced Thursday they’ll continue to waive the need for appointments through Sunday at the Pipkin Building, meaning you can just show up anytime from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They’re also offering $20 Kroger and Walmart gift cards to the first 2,500 people this weekend.

They’ll also be on hand to vaccinate at the University of Memphis’s Friday night football game, where the first 500 people to get vaccinated will also get $10 concession vouchers.

“There’ll be a lot of other great swag giveaways on Saturday including some Grizzlies swag,” Sweat said.

Shelby County Health Department epidemiologist David Sweat said the jump could be temporary stemming from spring break and holiday travels or it may represent a more serious fourth wave.

“We’ll be watching the data and trending it to see if it’s a minor increase like a wave at a beach for one wave and then back to small waves or is it like we got a rising tide,” David Sweat said.

Shelby County health officials also pointed to lower numbers of cases in areas where uptake of the vaccine are highest. Health officials said case numbers led them to conclude the vaccine is effective at protecting against variants.

The variants are 30 percent more deadly and 50 percent more transmissible, health officials said.

To date, 68 percent of seniors over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. More than 19,000 residents between the ages of 16 and 24 have also received at least one dose. In all, roughly 283,000 people have been vaccinated with 169,000 full vaccinated.

The goal is to get to 700,000 people vaccinated.

To sign up for a vaccine, click here.

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