TDH commissioner: Get vaccinated before you're exposed to 'more virulent' variants

'You will eventually get the vaccine or get the virus.'
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Posted at 1:26 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 14:32:47-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee’s health commissioner says with “multiple” coronavirus variants now in the state, the key is to get vaccinated before you’re exposed to one of them.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey spoke with reporter Kyle Horan on Monday as the state continues to combat vaccine hesitancy, especially among rural communities. Speaking via Zoom, Piercey also addressed concerns about the growing number of variants in the state.

At this point, Piercey said the most common variant in Tennessee is the Alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. She said it accounts for vast majority of cases in the state.

However, Piercey said there are also other variants of concern -- including the more dangerous and transmissible Delta variant, which was first detected in India, and the Gamma variant, which was first found in Brazil. So far, the state has only reported a couple three dozen cases of those, but Piercey said they are expecting cases to grow and become more prevalent.

Watch Kyle Horan's full interview with Dr. Piercey below:

Full Interview with Dr. Lisa Piercey on vaccine hesitancy

Even though concerns about the Delta variant have prompted discussion among some health experts about the threat of potential COVID spikes in the fall, Piercey mostly downplayed those concerns, saying that’s what viruses do -- they mutate.

However, Piercey said the key is to get vaccinated before you encounter one of the "more virulent" variants because at some point, you’re going to be exposed to it.

“We have these variants present in Tennessee, particular the ones you hear about most often, they’re here in Tennessee. But one of the reasons you may not hear us talking about it very often is because this is what all viruses do. Viruses will mutate. They’re mean, nasty little bugs, and they’re going to continue to evolve until they find a susceptible host,” said Piercey. “Ultimately, because we as humans are completely susceptible to this -- that’s why it’s called a novel coronavirus -- you will eventually get the vaccine or get the virus. It’s highly, highly unlikely you’re going to go the rest of your life and not have one of those two things."

Piercey said if you’re unvaccinated you still need to take precautions to protect yourself. However, if you are vaccinated, she had a more optimistic outlook on the effectiveness of the vaccines. “Rest assured, we’re having very good success with having vaccine effectiveness here in Tennessee,” she said.


When asked if a potential spike in cases would cause more shutdowns in the future, Piercey said that seems “very unlikely.” However, at some point, she said we could see reduced vaccine effectiveness and might perhaps need booster shot. But even if booster shots are required, Piercey doesn’t think it will be needed in the next six to 12 months, adding that vaccine effectiveness could be measured in years -- not months.


The good news is that cases in the state continue to decline. Piercey said they’re only seeing about 100 cases per-day for the entire state. As of June 27, Tennessee had 1,762 active cases -- the state has reported less than 2,000 since June 8. The 14-day average of daily new cases is 191.

As of Sunday, 12,557 total deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in Tennessee.