A federally-run vaccination site at the Pipkin Building is projected to administer 3,000 doses a day and will be operated in collaboration with the state of Tennessee. (Photo: cdc.gov via Tennessee Health Department Twitter)

Memphis received more good news on the COVID-19 vaccination front Wednesday (March 31) morning when White House officials announced that a new federal mass vaccination site will be opened in Memphis next week.

In a press briefing, Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor for COVID-19 Response, said it will be the first federally run, mass vaccination site in Tennessee. 

The good news out of Washington comes as local officials reported the rate of people being vaccinated has steadily increased.

As of Wednesday, the Shelby County Health Department said 317,937 total COVID-19 vaccine doses had been given out in Shelby County and 103,220 people had gotten two shots.

About 11 percent of the total county population has been fully vaccinated, officials said, meaning they have received two shots of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The federally-run site will be at the Pipkin Building. Federal authorities plan to administer 3,000 doses a day at the site. It will be operated in collaboration with the state of Tennessee. 

On Wednesday, the Health Department reported 90 new virus cases that were the result of 1,420 tests. There were two new virus-related deaths, the agency reported.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, at Tuesday’s (March 30) COVID Joint Task Force meeting, emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated and continuing to follow masking, social distancing and hand-washing guidelines. 

“Please go out and get a vaccine,” Lee said. “That’s more important now than ever before. We have found new variants in Shelby County.”

Health officials were in a “wait and see” mode as spring break revelers return from beaches and other popular vacation destinations. 

Although new cases continue decreasing, the new virus strains have city and county officials watching the progression of the variants.

David Sweat, Health Department Chief of Epidemiology, confirmed that four cases of the P1 strain of Brazil had been detected. Health officials are urging people across Shelby County and the Mid-South to get vaccinated for mitigation of all strains.

Dr. Bruce Randolph, the department’s Health Officer, had warned weeks ago that getting vaccinated is a powerful weapon against the virus and any of its variations. 

 “When variants pop up, it means that the virus is mutating in an attempt (to thrive),” Randolph said. “Vaccines are effective against COVID-19 and all its variations. 

According to officials, the variant from the U.K. is becoming the dominant strain. It presently comprises 30 to 50 percent of the new cases in Shelby County.  It’s predicted that the U.K. variation will have passed the original strain in new cases by April.

The U.K. variant is 50 percent more transmissible when compared to the original virus out of China. The vaccines have shown to be effective against this variant. 

The P1 variant, on the other hand, is 200 percent more transmissible than the original and can create havoc in a community very quickly, said Dr. Manoj Jain, the infectious disease expert.

“It can create havoc very quickly as it’s done many cities in Brazil,” Jain said. The P1 is worrisome because it evades the vaccine and can re-infect those who have already had the virus. So, it can also infect those who have been vaccinated.”

Jain said, however, the P1 can be contained with urgent actions now: Wear masks, avoid crowds, practice social distancing, and continue vigorously washing hands frequently. Also, vaccinations become very important, he said.

Mayor Harris added, “We’ll have to do more than just get vaccinated if we are going to beat this virus.”