NASHVILLE — Tennessee teachers became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as of Feb. 22.
The Tennessee Department of Health announced last week adults 65 and older, as well as teachers, child care workers and first responder operations personnel, would be eligible to receive the COVID-10 vaccine, beginning Feb. 22. The announcement came through a media briefing led by Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.
The groups are part of the Phase 1b population of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.
The state Department of Health also updated the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan by adding pregnant women to phase 1c. Although pregnant women were not included in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, they are at increased risk for hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.
Pregnant women may choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of phase 1c, along with others with high-risk health conditions. Pregnant women are encouraged to talk with their health care providers to help them make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidance for pregnant women to help reduce their risk of COVID-19 at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html.
Piercey said overnight camp staff members were added to phase 3 of vaccine dispersal. Language and American Sign Language interpreters working in health care were added to the phase 1a2 population with other health care workers, Piercey said.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccination plan prioritizes those most at risk of illness and death from COVID-19. Tennessee will continue to move through phases of the plan as vaccine supplies increase, Piercey said.
“Tennessee has administered more than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine so far, and we’ve made substantial progress in protecting our senior citizens who are over age 70 through vaccination,” she said. “While we remain focused on our seniors, who are the highest-risk population, we’re able to expand vaccine eligibility to these additional groups as our supply continues to grow each week.
“Senior citizens 70-plus are of highest risk for hospitalization and death. Senior citizens, hear me: You can still get a vaccine, and you should still get a vaccine.”
Piercey said Tennessee could begin to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as the end of this week. The one-dose vaccine would “significantly increase” the state’s supply, she said.
The Department of Health also launched an online scheduling tool that allows users to book their appointment for COVID-19 vaccination at participating health department sites when they are eligible to do so.
Tennesseans can access the system at covid19.tn.gov and select their county to schedule an appointment. Users will enter their demographic information and will then be able to choose a date and time for their vaccination appointment. Tennesseans who have already registered for a COVID-19 vaccination do not need to reenter their information in the new system.
The scheduling platform went live Feb. 15, and more than 2,000 people used it to schedule their vaccine, Piercey said.
“What is different from what has been available is that people will now be able to sign up and schedule their appointment online directly instead of waiting for someone to call them to schedule their appointment,” she said.
When registering online, Piercey said, if the individual is found eligible to receive their vaccine, the software will direct them to a list of available locations for receiving their vaccine. Once the appointment is made, individuals will receive a QR code to their phone to show at their appointment.
“If you do not have your QR code with you at your appointment, it is not a problem,” Piercey said.
Private providers, pharmacies and hospitals will not be a part of the scheduling system. This is only for county health departments, she said.
Recent winter weather has caused delays in shipping the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If you were scheduled to receive your vaccine, you will be contacted to reschedule your date,” Piercey said. “Due to the weather cancellations we have had to find large groups to give the vaccines to. As you know, [the vaccine] can expire within a matter of hours once the seal is broken.”
Tennesseans can find information on the phases eligible for vaccination in their county and, when eligible, register for vaccination through their county health department at covid19.tn.gov/covid-19-vaccines/county-vaccine-information.
Due to their independent operations and larger populations, Tennessee’s metropolitan counties such as Davidson may have different instructions, so residents in those areas should check with local authorities about their plans.
The Department of Health reminds all Tennesseans that in addition to vaccination, wearing a face mask, maintaining social distancing and getting tested when exposed or sick are critical to controlling the pandemic.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccination plan is available at tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/COVID-19_Vaccination_Plan.pdf. Find answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination at covid19.tn.gov/data/faqs.