Weekly Update: Vaccines and the New Year

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As you may have seen on the news recently, the first round of vaccines is beginning to roll out here locally, and getting it to as many people as we can as quickly as we can will be extremely important in the fight against this virus.

In the words of Dr. Fauci, “if we can get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated by let’s say the end of the second, the beginning of the third quarter – by the time we get into mid-fall of 2021, we can be approaching some level of normality”.

The vaccines are currently being given at two drive-thru vaccination sites in Shelby County, and are currently available to people who meet the following criteria:

  • First responders with direct public exposure including EMS, law enforcement, and fire fighters
  • Staff working at COVID-19 mass testing sites
  • Staff and residents of long-term care facilities, residential homes for the aged and staff and residents of assisted living centers who have direct contact with residents or contact with potentially infectious materials
  • Staff of other congregate care facilities such as homes for the intellectually or developmentally disabled, detention centers, staff of Department of Children’s Services residential facilities, rehabilitation hospitals and psychiatric hospitals who have direct patient contact or contact with potentially infectious materials
  • Home health care staff with direct patient contact
  • Staff and residents of long-term care facilities, residential homes for the aged and staff and residents of assisted living centers who have direct contact with residents or contact with potentially infectious materials
  • Providers of K-12 or university student health services who have direct patient contact or contact with potentially infectious materials

Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Health recently sent out the chart below describing the next phases of distribution.


For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine and when it will be available to you, please visit the Shelby County Health Department’s website.

The New Year: As we move into the new year, I think it’s important to take one last look at 2020, a year that has and will forever change us. In today’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing, Doug McGowen, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Memphis, did just that. I wanted to share his thoughts with you. Below are some of his comments from today’s briefing:

300 days ago, leadership from across the county were briefed by the Health Department on what were then the very first identified cases of COVID-19 in our community. One week later, we collectively came together under a joint task force structure to coordinate what has been a herculean effort to inform, protect, feed, teach, support, test and now to vaccinate our community.

Our objective has been and remains to navigate the pandemic so that we are able to return to a new normal as quickly as possible, while preserving lives and livelihoods along the way. It hasn’t been easy. We haven’t always gotten it exactly right, and while we haven’t always agreed, we have delivered what has been to this point a unified approach to combatting this pandemic.

We all feel the stinging loss of far too many friends and family members who have succumbed to this disease, and today, we reflect on what they have meant to us and mourn their passing. Our solace is that because we are unified and coordinated in our approach to combatting this disease, our death rate is half the national rate, and while our state is a new hot spot, Memphis and Shelby County’s case rate ranks in the bottom five of the 95 counties that make up our state.

Our medical experts continue to innovate and find new ways to ensure testing has been readily available and free since we started this journey, and because of it, we have never suffered the scarcity or dramatically slow test result turnaround times that other communities have experienced. Our hospital systems, though stressed, are expertly managing their patient loads minute by minute to ensure those most in need of acute care are able to get it, and our community has answered the call for desperately needed staff and volunteers to help relieve the pressure in our health care systems. And as importantly, we have begun the life-saving work of administering vaccines, and we will not stop until everyone in Memphis and Shelby County has the opportunity to be immunized.

When because of a sudden outbreak of disease and disrupted school schedules we couldn’t deliver vital food service to children who count on it in the normal way, our joint task force team found a way to reliably make food available for our children and families who needed it most without missing a beat.

Because so many of our parents depend on our schools to care for children as a fundamental requirement for earning a living, so many agencies and individuals came together to deliver child care and remote learning academy capacity for our critical infrastructure workers. The YMCA, City Division of Parks Neighborhoods and other agencies delivered in ways we had never imagined.

In keeping with our history as the most benevolent city in America, collectively, the City, the County and the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, we have issued more than $20M of direct financial support for utility assistance, rent and mortgage assistance, business stabilization grants, and grants to directly support employees of industries most dramatically impacted by restrictions on businesses, and ensured that non-profit agencies that provide so many social services and supports have had the financial means to do so.

We have and continue to provide housing for chronically and newly homeless individuals and families, and have kept a steady supply of food available serving roughly 41 million meals in addition to the food for kids and families for people who need it without interruption through our Mid-South Food Bank. We even managed to make it through 10-years Census and a local and presidential election. Additionally, while many cities across the country faced months of violent protests, our community came together peacefully to let their voices be heard, and we continue to reimagine policing for the residents of Memphis.

2020 has been a year of collective and individual sacrifice. But over the last 300 days, I have been inspired by our collective grit and broad commitment to doing the right things as we grind our way through this pandemic.

It is my hope that we will enter this new year with a renewed sense of optimism in the face of some daunting numbers, knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel – an array of vaccines that combined with continued wearing of facemasks will accelerate our recovery and arrival at a new normal.

There is still work to do and our journey is not yet over. We will be at the hard work of vaccination for the better part of 2021. Vaccination, testing, mask wearing and adherence to the health department directives are the recipe for a successful spring and recovery from this pandemic.

Thank you, Doug, for all you do for our city.

Final thought: Recently, my former priest emailed me the poem “In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Although his words were written more than a century ago, they are just as fitting today on this New Year’s Eve.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

I look forward to the promise that this new year brings and hope you and your families have a happy and safe new year.


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