Hamilton County, Tenessee’s Public Health: Incompetent or Corrupt?

Wow. That was my first reaction to this article. It outraged me when I read it, and it should outrage you, too. The article is below, but the summary is the Health Department in Hamilton County, Tennessee diverted doses of Covid-19 vaccine from phase 1 qualified candidates (frontline workers & elderly) presumably to save doses for their friends and family members according to an article picked up by Yahoo News.

Health officials in Tennessee turned away elderly people waiting for hours to get a vaccine and gave it to friends instead: report

Health officials in Tennessee turned away elderly people waiting for hours to get a vaccine and gave it to friends instead: report

People 75 years and older should be among the first people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

https://www.insider.com/health-officials-gave-covid-vaccines-to-friends-instead-of-elderly-2021-1

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifies that the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine administration is for frontline workers responding to the pandemic, as well as people 75 years and older. 

As a former program director for the CDC’s Healthy People 2000’s initiative for Orange County’s community clinics, the Hamilton County, Tenessee’s Public Health Department’s “excuse” doesn’t pass the smell test for me:

“Nurses were able to draw 6 and occasionally 7 doses from some vials instead of the projected 5,” Barnes said. “This was our first day using the Pfizer vaccine and staff had no history to project the actual doses we would have.”

Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes

In my experience, this is often the case – The number of doses in any given vial commonly has more than the stated volume in it and sometimes that extra is enough for an extra dose or two. So the story that they would have extra doses is likely very true.

It is alarming that the Hamilton County Health Department seems satisfied having clinicians administering vaccines when they “…had no history to project the actual doses we would have.” If they cannot forecast vaccines for one event, this is alarming as VACCINATING THE PUBLIC IS WHAT THEY DO! A HEALTH DEPARTMENT SHOULD BE THE EXPERTS ON FORECASTING VACCINE DOSES.

Adding insult to injury, the Hamilton County Health Department used their Twitter feed to tell patients to go home, come back and try again (see below).

Instead of using the time and energy it took the Hamilton County Health Department used to update its Twitter feed (for drivers who should not be on their phones), staff should have taken a page from the fast food industry. When the line got too long, staff should have taken to walking the cars and counting the number of qualified candidates and made sure every last one was vaccinated BEFORE telling them to go home and try again. If that was unrealistic or not possible, they should have reached out to pockets of known high-risk qualified Covid-19 vaccine candidates like those residing and working in senior living communities, nursing homes, board and cares, etc.

Twitter feed Hamilton Health advising Covid-19 vaccine candidates to go home.
Twitter feed Hamilton Health advising Covid-19 vaccine candidates to go home.

Shame on any of my colleagues for vaccinating anyone because “We’ve got contacts”. My only hope is that a lesson is learned that results in positive change.

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Author: Tenayshus

TENAYSHUS (Tenacious Blind Girl) is a retired Registered Nurse who needed support following her diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa, one of many conditions that cause low vision. When she could not find a support group, she learned web design to build LowVisionSupportGroup.com to help others impacted with Low Vision. The site was created using accessibility-ready web authoring tools.