New details emerge concerning Carter County vaccine debacle

Published 6:55 pm Thursday, December 31, 2020

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County mayor speaks out on vaccine controversy
A recent uproar surrounding an email sent by Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby inviting Carter County Commissioners and “at risk members of their families” to receive a COVID vaccination has had more twists and turns than a curvy stretch of road.
Many details were unclear, including who instructed Woodby, as well as superintendents of the two local school systems, to extend the invitation for vaccinations to those who were not yet eligible — or not even mentioned — according to the State of Tennessee’s vaccine distribution chart.
At the time of the email, the state’s vaccine distribution chart was in the 1a1 phase for inpatient and other high-exposure health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders. Phase, 1a2, is for all other health care workers.
The chart does not mention county commissioners and when they may be eligible to receive the vaccination.
The Elizabethton Star issued a Freedom of Information request and Woodby responded, supplying emails pertaining to the issue, and speaking with a reporter for the Star.
Woodby confirmed to the Star thatthe email, dated December 22, 2020, and time stamped at 9:09 p.m. was a follow-up to an earlier phone call she had received from Carter County Health Department Director Caroline Hurt, telling her she should contact the commissioners and make them aware of the vaccine availability.
The follow-up email from Hurt included “scripting” for the email Woodby would send. “We have unexpected extra vaccine in today. We’ve got availability to provide this allotment, until it is exhausted, between 2 and 7 tomorrow at the Great Lakes (Workforce Development) facility. Please arrive with a photo ID such as driver’s license. If we run out by the time you arrive we will be sure to place you on a priority waiting list. Address is 386 TN-91 Elizabethton TN 37643. Thanks for your help! Caroline.”
A similar email was also sent to Director Richard VanHuss of the Elizabethton City Schools and Director Dr. Tracy McAbee of the Carter County Schools systems along with Carter County Coordinator of Coordinated School Health Beth Bare and Teresa Robinson, the system-wide registered nurse for Elizabethton City Schools.
The email provided by VanHuss came from Emily Brooks who is the Health Educator for the Carter County Health Department. It advised of the unexpected extra vaccine adding, “This will be open to all school nurses or any school system staff who are in contact with students. If we run out by the time you arrive, we will be sure to place you on a priority waiting list.”
VanHuss said that as soon as he received the email he forwarded it to all employees and informed them to look at the information provided so they could read it for themselves.
“When that email came out Wednesday, I thought something positive had happened and they had moved teachers up,” VanHuss said. “As usual, when you get the word out to staff they respond and I know there were at least seven to eight teachers who received the vaccine because they were at the front of the line.”
However, VanHuss said he later received a follow-up call from Hurt, asking him to call the teachers back. There was a change of plans, Hurt said, as there was only going to be enough vaccine for first responders — not enough to cover because they were “inundated with people.”
“She said one of the shipments they were going to get had been delayed. The way she explained it was that they were going to expand the net and try to get more people with the extra shipment. We sent another message out because of the misinformation given to us.”
When the Star contacted Hurt, and asked if she had sent the email concerning the county commissioners’ vaccinations, she directed the reporter to Kristen Spencer at the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office. So far, Hurt has not responded to the Freedom of Information request sent to to the Carter County Health Department asking for more detailed information.
In the meantime, Woodby has been taking sharp criticism and even threats from the public.
“I don’t have anything to hide and I am as honest as it comes,” Woodby said. “I have told the truth so many times that I don’t know how much more to tell it.”
She described her conversation with Hurt, saying the health department director had told her they were getting an extra shipment in of the doses and that she was concerned they didn’t have the capability of keeping them at the correct temperature.
“So she was reaching out to me and the school systems…for them to come and get in the line the next day to try and exhaust this extra shipment.
“It didn’t affect any of the front line workers or any of the nurses who had already been registered as those had already been allotted,” Woodby added. “But I don’t think that they had a lot already registered for the doses that were already there. The concern was basically that they were going to have to throw (vaccine doses) away.”
Woodby went on to say that she did ask Hurt how they were able to “get out from under the tier system of the distribution plan.” She said Hurt again explained that they didn’t want the extra doses to be wasted, adding she didn’t think Hurt “had any malicious intent at all.”
“I think that she was looking out for the community and the fact they were concerned about getting an extra shipment of vaccine and trying to get further into the tiers,” Woodby said. “I believe it all just got sideways.”
In reflection, Woodby said that the whole ordeal has been a lesson learned — “not to let somebody else handle your own business.” She also continued to defend Hurt, saying, “I trust all my directors because they are great.”
“She (Hurt) is the one heading this up and she asked me to do something for the good of the community and I did and not necessarily looking at people’s titles but looking at saving lives. That is what I have done and it’s turned into a mess.”

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