Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County medical director, was vaccinated against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

Now that President Joe Biden’s administration is in place, there is enhanced optimism that Shelby County’s vaccination program against COVID-19 may get a substantial boost.

“President Biden is making vaccinations a priority from Day 1,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, medical director of the Shelby County Health Department. “Those on our staff in charge of the vaccine campaign continue to do a tremendous job with administering the vaccine. As we get more in, more vaccinations will be done.”

Randolph said the health department is moving as quickly as possible to get the vaccines to the general population. Because the pandemic has highlighted some inherent disparity for people of color seeking healthcare, there are declarations that administering of vaccines will be watched very closely. 

“Right now, those in the medical field and first responders have received the vaccine,” Randolph said. “They do not represent the demographic of the general population. 

“When the vaccine is being administered to people 75 and over, and then persons 65 and older, and people with some vulnerabilities, then we can tell if there is some disparity, why it is happening, and take steps to correct it.”

Joan Carr, Shelby County Health Department public information officer, has tracked the numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“As of Tuesday, 33,687 vaccinations had been given in Shelby County,” Carr said. “That includes by the health department, the hospital systems, and the pharmacy chains, Walgreen’s and CVS.”

Carr explained that the vaccine is not being administered in the retail pharmacy locations, but Walgreen’s and CVS have contracted with the federal government to provide vaccinations in nursing homes and care homes for staff and residents.

“We show that 6,999 people in Shelby County have received both doses of the vaccine,” said Carr. “That means they are fully vaccinated. That number is expected to rise drastically in the next few weeks as the health department administers the second dose to the 9,500 people who were vaccinated at our drive-thru sites between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3.”

Health officials had previously announced that Shelby County would receive 9,800 doses of the vaccine each week throughout the month of January.

Because 60 percent of deaths in the county from COVID-19 are African-American, Randolph expressed concern that the vaccine distribution reflect that statistic in a meaningful way.

Chip Washington, the health department’s public information officer for COVID-19, said his office is doing everything possible to make sure everyone’s questions are answered.

“In order to achieve a new normal, we have to trust in the science,” said Washington. “And that means taking the vaccine. We have to trust the vaccine.”

Washington said he had misgivings about the vaccines because they both had been produced in nine months.

“Dr. Randolph helped me to understand why the vaccine was produced in less than a year,” said Washington. “The basic therapy for the vaccine had been developed a long time ago. In other words, they were not starting from scratch.”

Once the general population is taking the vaccines, health officials want to make sure that disparity is not occurring because people are afraid of taking it, Washington said. The right messaging will be essential, he said.

Carr said while the number of total doses received is not readily available, a portion has been set aside, exclusively, for second doses.

“We want to assure the public that everyone who has received a first dose will get their second dose,” Carr said.

Those who have received only one dose are only about 70 percent protected, according to Randolph. CDC guidelines do not consider a person fully vaccinated until that second shot is administered.

When vaccination moves to the more general population – those 75 and over, then, those 65 and over – drive-thru sites and times will be announced.