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What You Need To Know About Tennessee’s Vaccine Distribution Plan

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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Tennessee released a revised version of its vaccine distribution plan Wednesday. The latest update does not project exact timelines for deploying vaccines but was made with the expectation of an approved vaccine coming soon.

Here’s what you need to know.

When will we get the first doses? Tennessee expects to receive more than 56,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this month. Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and the state is gearing up to deploy thousands of doses by the end of the month.

Who’s getting vaccinated first? Frontline healthcare workers, first responders and staff and residents of long-term care facilities are first in line to receive the vaccine. That includes health providers working in emergency rooms, inpatient facilities and other settings with a high risk of exposure. Within each group, people with co-morbidities will be given priority. After they’re vaccinated, focus will shift to protecting other health care workers working directly with patients, then to adults with two or more conditions that make them susceptible to getting seriously ill with the virus, like diabetes, cancer and being 65 or older.

What about teachers? Teachers are included in the second — and the largest — phase of the plan. That’s when the state will work to vaccinate more than 2.5 million people, including all people with at least one underlying condition, older people in good health, critical infrastructure workers, incarcerated people, corrections staff and group care residents and staff. Supplies are expected to ramp up in the first quarter of next year. Chalkbeat reports that teachers likely won’t get vaccinated before schools return from winter break.

And everybody else? Phase 3 of the distribution plan will cover children, young adults and people working in industries “important to society and with higher risk of exposure.” That includes folks working in universities, goods-producing industries and entertainment.

Gov. Bill Lee has said vaccinations will be optional for children in Tennessee’s public schools. State law currently allows parents to opt out of required vaccinations “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat of an epidemic.” One Republican bill in the General Assembly aims to let parents refuse even during the pandemic. It will be considered in the coming legislative session.

The fourth phase of distribution will make vaccines available to anybody who was not already covered in the first three phases.

Don’t forget! Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two injections, spaced out three and four weeks apart, respectively. So each person inoculated will require two doses of the vaccine. They also need to be kept very cold while they’re stored and transported, which could pose a challenge to the country’s cold chain distribution infrastructure.

Alexis Marshall is the 2018 fall reporting intern at Nashville Public Radio. She is a senior at Middle Tennessee State University.
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