After getting a vaccine shot at the Walmart at 5255 Elvis Presley Blvd., the next step was a recommended 15-minute wait period. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

More resources must be funneled into ZIP codes where the vaccination rates are low, Dr. Bruce Randolph, the Shelby County Health Department medical director, told the Shelby County Board of Commissioners this week.

That need comes amid the recognition that, overall, good progress is being made in Shelby County as COVID-19 vaccination becomes more widely available, Randolph said.

Shelby County is in phase 1C of vaccination distribution, according to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Vaccination Plan. In this stage, a more inclusive list of chronic conditions and pre-existing conditions are covered.

Individuals now eligible for the vaccine are: household members age 16 and older living with a pregnant female, persons 16 and older with Down Syndrome, and persons 16 and older with progressive neuromuscular diseases, such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy.

Those fitting into Phase 1c are coming in for vaccination, but there is a problem with access to vaccination sites and the distribution of available vaccines to certain parts of the county.

“A total of 33,000 vaccines were made available to three permanent vaccine sites,” said Randolph. “That supply was divided between Germantown Baptist Church, the Appling site and the Pipkin Building. There was comparatively much smaller supply available at the Southwest Community College Whitehaven site and Greater Imani Church. Each of them was only given 9 percent each.”

In association with that, vaccination rates in the highest ZIP codes are four times greater than the rates in lower, inner-city ZIP codes, Randolph said.

“All five of the ZIP codes carrying the highest rates of vaccination are all in east Memphis,” said Randolph. “ZIP codes with the lower rates of vaxing are all in the inner city. It all boils down to allocating more resources in those ZIP codes where the vaxing rates are low. We’ve got to set up permanent sites in those areas. We really don’t have any sites in South Memphis or North Memphis.”

Weeks ago when Randolph sounded the alarm on growing vaccine disparity in certain communities, County Commissioner Van Turner Jr. talked about the intentional targeting of minority communities for mobile vaccination drives.

“As president of the Memphis Branch NAACP, I would certainly offer our office site as a good place to offer the vaccine,” Turner said. “People could just come up and receive their shots. Not only for this location, but other sites which are conveniently located in minority communities, such as churches and schools, would also be accessible.”

Randolph told county commissioners that more pop-up sites can be made available to help get the vaccine to people experiencing some difficulty.

“We had a pop-up vaccine site at a church on Saturday, and we can set up one for this weekend,” said Randolph.

Permanent vaccine sites operate at least five days a week, he said. Since health officials have a good sense of how the disparity has unfolded, more effort can go into continuing to open up both permanent and pop-up sites in under-served communities.

Appointments for the vaccine can be made under phase 1C for individuals with the following serious conditions:

  • Chronic renal disease;
  • COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or moderate-severe asthma;
  • Obesity (BMI > 30);
  • Heart conditions, including heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and hypertension;
  • Sickle cell disease; cerebrovascular disease or stroke;
  • Dementia,
  • and liver disease.

The vaccine will also be made available to caregivers of people with high-risk medical conditions and women who are pregnant. Individuals who fit into phases 1A and 1B and have not yet been vaccinated may also make an appointment.

For a more detailed list of the high-risk health conditions covered under phase 1C, refer to Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan posted online at https://bit.ly/3etOWcy.

The age-based criteria for vaccination will remain age 65 and older. Anyone in that age category is eligible for vaccination regardless of other risk conditions.

Appointment availabilities at City of Memphis and Shelby County vaccination locations will be posted at https://covid19.memphistn.gov/ each Friday for the following week.

Those without Internet access and those needing assistance in setting an appointment may call 901-222-7468 (SHOT).