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TN, Walmart plan to expedite vaccine

Tennessee will partner with Walmart to further distribute COVID-19 vaccines, something Gov. Bill Lee says will expedite the state’s efforts to administer more shots to curb the pandemic.
“As our vaccine numbers go up, we expect to be utilizing dozens, and then hundreds, of providers to get vaccines out to people in every community in Tennessee,” Lee told reporters this week, naming Walmart specifically.
The retail giant made its own announcement of the new program this week, quoting Lee in a news release about Walmart being part of the CDC’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
The Elizabethton Walmart began administering the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, a local spokesman said. The vaccine is being offered to those who are 70 and older and qualify under the first phases of the state’s plan.
Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies received vaccines from the federal government this week as part of the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Allotments are being given with an emphasis on serving communities with limited access to health care.
Initial vaccine supply will be limited, but additional appointments are expected to be added at Walmart, Sam’s Clubs, and other retail pharmacies as supply increases.
Customers can schedule an appointment online at walmart.com/covid vaccine.
As of Wednesday, Tennessee has administered 70.2% of the more than 1.1 million vaccines it has received, ranking the state 23rd in the nation based on how many doses has been given.
Locally, state data shows that 8,681 vaccines have been administered in Carter County with 10.46 percent of the population receiving at least one dose; but only 4.91 percent of the population received the required two doses.
The COVID-19 vaccine is also being administered at Burgie Drug in Elizabethton. Appointments are necessary and the current groups are being vaccinated — 1a1, 1a2, 1b, and 70 years and older. A spokesperson at the store said the vaccinations are going well. Appointments are required.
Vaccine is also available by appointment through the Carter County Health Department. To make an appointment call 866-442-5301 or go to the department’s website.
Lee confirmed the state is working on developing an online tool to allow individuals to sign up for an appointment at local health departments. More information on that will be announced “in the days to come,” he said.
That full online scheduling service could launch as early as next week, allowing eligible individuals to immediately secure a date and time for appointments, state heath commissioner Lisa Piercey said on a call Wednesday with members of the Tennessee Press Association. 
Commissioner Piercey in her conference call urged Tennesseans age 70 and older to register for COVID-19 vaccines if they have not already. TDH estimates there are about 300,000 Tennesseans in the 70-74 year age group, and only about one in three Tennesseans in this group have been vaccinated to date.
“It’s a top priority to protect Tennessee senior citizens who are the most vulnerable to hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and we don’t want anyone to miss out on their chance to be protected by vaccination,” said Piercey.
Piercey said a “big bump” in vaccine supply is expected to come in the next two to four weeks.
Tennessee is currently receiving around 100,000 vaccine doses a week. The health commissioner estimates the state as a whole will move to phase 1B, in which K-12 teachers and child care workers are vaccinated, the week of Feb. 22.
Lee said the federal government sets general vaccine allocation amounts for about three weeks at a time, and then changes them. Tennessee hasn’t yet been given information on what the next update to the state’s weekly amount will be.
“Within weeks,” the governor said, Tennessee should be receiving a “significant” increase in shipments of Pfizer vaccines, information he gleaned from conversations with Pfizer officials.