Tennessee vaccine plan

Educators and people age 75 and older have been moved up in line for the COVID-19 vaccine, state officials said Wednesday.

School and childcare staff are now on Plan 1b for the vaccine, state data show. They were in the second phase of distribution.

Individuals qualifying for vaccination under Phases 1a1 and 1a2 may be offered vaccine by their employer, through their local health department or through a partnering hospital, the state said in a press release. Staff members and residents of long-term care facilities will be provided vaccinations through the federal partnership with Walgreens and CVS, in partnership with a local pharmacy or via TDH vaccination strike teams. Phase 1a1 and 1a2 individuals should check with their employer or contact their local health department for more information.

Gov. Bill Lee and his staff discussed vaccine distribution at a press conference Wednesday, and he made general remarks about the Nashville bombing on Christmas Day.

Lee statements:

Christmas bombing: I commend those in Metro Nashville Police who prevented a massive loss of life. Other first responders. I met with the fire chief on the site. TBI and Highway Patrol. Those helping federal agents. Business owners: It has been an incredibly challenging year, and now this has made it more difficult for them. We are working to find relief by the federal government. The president said we will get a disaster decree. AT&T is working hard to get full services restored. Many state services have been affected.

Vaccine distribution plan: It is evolving. We are now including 75 and older citizens. We think this will cut the death rate and hospitalizations more quickly.

Special session on education: This is important. Learning losses are at record highs. COVID-19 has exposed how poorly Tennessee students read.

Questions:

Q: The vaccine plan for ages 75 and older. Are other states doing this?

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Health Commissioner: I have not kept track of all states lately, but this is one of the few or the only that takes this concurrent approach. We want to have the most effective plan for Tennesseans. Our plan is based on Tennessee data; over half of hospitalizations are 65-plus and 85 percent of deaths are the elderly. This vaccinates our higher risk people earlier. Risk is our criteria.

Q: Have any vaccines spoiled?

Piercey: I am not aware of any.

Question on bombing: The president has not spoken publicly. Should he? Will the declaration come soon?

Lee: I spoke to the president. He called me to say he would grant the request. He is making sure it is in order. He expressed his concern and asked if he can do anything to help. There is no indication of any issues on the request. That can take some time.

Q: When did the president call, and what else did you discuss?

Lee: I think it was Sunday morning. There has been a lot happening. That was the crux of the call.

Q: When do you hope to have a release on the ground from FEMA?

Lee: The work begins to be done by our teams knowing we will be able to be repaid by FEMA. Word that it has been signed. That is all we are waiting on.

Q: What things do you want to look at from the outages by AT&T?

Lee: You can look in the aftermath and see where your weaknesses are. AT&T is doing that. How can we prevent that in the future?

Q: AT&T has a big footprint in the state government and 911. Should that be looked at?

Lee: The state will see what it can learn to strengthen things moving forward. Are there ways to mitigate in the future? We will work with AT&T for ways to improve the relationship.

Q on distribution plan: Have teachers and daycare staff moved ahead? Are they ahead of other groups?

Piercey: We moved K-12 staff, teachers, daycare to top of the list behind healthcare workers. That is based on risk to society and the economy. Education and literacy for students. For parents to be able to work. We do not link vaccines to school openings. We want schools to be open now. This will keep teachers and kids in the classroom for our economy.

Q: Moving them up moves others down. Who moved down? High-risk conditions? Other critical infrastructure workers?

Piercey: The biggest is the 1b phase of teachers. The concurrent age criteria gets all the highest-risk vaccinated earlier despite their vocation. Equity. There is no value judgment. It is a calculus based on assessment of risk while this is scarce.

Q: Tell us more about this new literacy plan vs. what nearly passed the Legislature this spring.

Penny Schwinn, Education Commissioner: Literacy has been a priority for a time. This uses one-time federal funding. More details will come Monday. Reading 360 is not the name of a program; these are supports for districts.

Q: Contract details?

Schwinn: Monday. The department will adhere to any statutory policy on contracts.

Q: Is there anything that can be done at the state policy level about the bombing and disruption to telecommunications?

Lee: We can work with the private partners like AT&T. We talk daily.

Q: What did you talk with AT&T about it not happening again?

Lee: We are in the middle of this crisis. How can we help one another? Getting all the services back up and how to improve in the future and strengthen the system in the future will be after we get everything online.

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