Slow vaccine uptake in rural Tennessee could lead to more supply than demand statewide

Posted at 5:07 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 19:22:12-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — By the middle of the year, Tennessee could have more COVID-19 vaccine on hand than residents who want it.

According to Tennessee Department of Health data, uptake of the vaccines in the state remains low, especially in rural areas. Many rural county health departments are seeing only a fraction of their daily COVID-19 vaccination appointments filled.

West Tennessee counties have only about 20% of their daily appointments booked. East Tennessee has about 50% availability, and Middle Tennessee has 80% of their daily appointments filled.

This comes as the state is expecting vaccine shipment to start increasing at the end of March.

"I think that based on the amount of vaccine that I'm hearing are coming to the state every single week, I think we're going to have more vaccine statewide than we're going to have uptake," said State Senator Shane Reeves.

Sen. Reeves represents Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall, Moore and a section of Rutherford County. He is also a pharmacist.

He said he gets asked about the COVID-19 vaccines every day by constituents and colleagues on Capitol Hill.

"I, for one, think you should consider doing it if specifically, you fall into one of those protected classes, but it's clearly your choice," Sen. Reeves said.

Maury Regional Health has administered more than 12,000 doses at clinics around southern Middle Tennessee. Recently, registration has slowed, according to its CEO Alan Watson.

"It is discouraging when we have a tool that will allow us to get back to normal and we have a lack of interest in taking that vaccination," said Watson.

The health system is encouraging everyone to get any one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

"The best message is the vaccine is safe, it is effective and there is no reason to not be vaccinated," Watson said.

While the leaders agree the vaccine is solid, the slow uptake does not alarm Sen. Reeves.

"I believe if we get 55% of the state vaccinated and the trends are all moving in the right direction then we're going to be in a whole lot better place then than we were this time last year," Sen. Reeves said.