Weekly Update: The vaccine process

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I know many of you are concerned and frustrated by the vaccine process.

I am too. However, my frustration may be slightly different than most, and I’ll get to that in just a second.

While there was a slow and confusing initial rollout, the problem with quickly putting shots in arms with available vaccine has largely been remedied, and the sign-up process will be fixed in the near future as the Shelby County Health Department is moving to the state’s new, easier-to-use program over the coming weeks.

As you may have seen earlier this week in this news story, I reached out to a local Chick-fil-A owner to see how we can be better and more efficient with our vaccine delivery. His response after checking out the operation: “I thought they were doing a great job. I thought they had already made some decisions in the queuing, in the serving, they have times, they have goals.”

Like everything else we do in city government, we measure and we track our progress. Let’s take wait times at the Appling location for example. Our first day, people were in line for two to three hours. The second day, the average wait time was dropped to 45 minutes. This past week at that location the average wait time was 17.5 minutes with the longest average wait time at 32.5 minutes. We achieved this by doing two simple things. First, you must have an appointment. Second, telling people to not arrive more than an hour ahead of their scheduled time with proof of an appointment with the date and time.

The best part about this is—we can replicate it at other vaccination sites as we open them, and it already has been instituted at other current locations around the city. We’re doing this at Appling (the only City-run site), and Shelby County has started at the Pipkin Building, Whitehaven, and Germantown locations. Additionally, there will be another site in Raleigh announced next week.

As it stands right now, we're administering between 10,000 to 15,000 doses per week. The ultimate goal is to be able to accommodate the number of vaccines as the weekly allocation continues to grow to 30,000 or 50,000 a week, and we feel confident we have the right model to do it.

Now, to the source of my frustration—a lack of adequate vaccine doses and the uncertainty of the quantities we receive each week, which at this point, both are totally out of our control. Those responsibilities rest at the national level. State, county, and city government do not make the vaccines, and at this time, do not have access to purchase them on the open market. Therefore, we’re beholden to the federal government for the allotment we receive and when we receive it.

What am I not frustrated with, however, is the countless men and women from the City of Memphis, Shelby County Government, and the volunteers who are working extremely hard to find solutions during these difficult times. It hasn’t been easy. We haven’t always gotten it exactly right, and while we haven’t always agreed, we have delivered and will continue to deliver a unified approach to overcome this virus and get vaccines in as many arms as possible.

The pipeline and the reliability for more vaccine is going to open up. I assure you when that happens, we have a well thought out plan, and we’ll be ready to execute on it when the time comes in the near future.


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