The Tennessee Department of Health on Wednesday released its preliminary plans for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the state when they become available.
The plan provides a framework for how the state will allocate doses among counties and prioritized populations but much of the work to onboard health care providers to administer the shot is still in development.
Health care workers and first responders will be the first to receive the vaccine under the health department’s draft plan. After that, high-risk populations in long-term care facilities or congregate living settings will have priority. Next would come child care workers and educators as well as individuals with chronic health conditions. As the supply of vaccines increases, doses will become available to all essential workers and then slowly expand to the general population. The health department hopes the latter will occur by mid-2021.
The state plans to allocate 85 percent of its vaccine supplies to counties based on population and distribute another 5 percent to ensure smaller counties have the capacity to meet initial demand for high-priority residents. The state will hold on to 10 percent of its allotment for emergency deployments or to fill unforeseen gaps in the distribution plan.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters in a briefing that the plan is subject to change based on priorities as they emerge and the number of vaccines that initially become available. Tennessee will receive 2 percent of the national allocation from the federal government, which could vary in volume based on how drug candidates perform in clinical trials and manufacturing capabilities.
Vaccines likely become available on a rolling basis over the course of weeks or months and in “very limited quantities,” according to health department officials. They will not be administered to special populations such as children and pregnant women.
"We assure Tennesseans that safe, effective and approved COVID-19 vaccines will be released in Tennessee when they are available," Piercey said in a press release detailing the plan. "Our vaccine distribution plan will be modified as more is understood about the virus and the availability of approved vaccines currently in development."
Several vaccine candidates have begun stage-three clinical trials but none so far have been, or are scheduled to be, authorized for use by the federal government. A committee within the Food and Drug Administration that will be responsible for vetting the efficacy of vaccine candidates — Meharry Medical College President James Hildreth was appointed to serve on it last week — will meet for the first time Thursday.