The first of 115,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine expected in Tennessee this week came Monday morning, arriving in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties and further laying the groundwork in a race to vaccinate 200,000 Tennessean by the end of this year.

The Moderna vaccine shipment follows an earlier delivery of 56,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, bound for 74 hospitals, earlier this week. An additional, and unanticipated, shipment of 40,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine is arriving Tuesday or Wednesday.

Beginning Monday, long term care patients will be vaccinated by drug store pharmacists making house calls to those facilities. About 80 percent of the state’s long term care facilities are working with CVS and Walgreens, while the remainder have plans in place to work with local pharmacists.

In a briefing with reporters on Monday, Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, said she administered the first dose of the Moderna vaccine herself — inoculating a Rutherford County paramedic at about 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)
Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)

The vaccines’ arrival – more are expected to come to the state on a staggered basis this week, and in the coming weeks and months — comes as the state is experiencing staggering levels of infection.

Tennessee ranked first in the nation for COVID-19 infections last week. Dr. Piercey warned over the weekend that more infections, added to the record numbers of Tennesseans already hospitalized, could devastate the state’s hospital infrastructure.

“If we have another surge by Christmas, it will completely break our hospitals,” Piercey said Sunday.

The state’s goal, she said, is to vaccinate 200,000 Tennesseans by the New Year.

Yet the rollout of vaccines is going slower than expected, she acknowledged in the press briefing.

Just 16,500 of more than 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine available in the state have been administered thus far, she said.

Most hospitals began administering the vaccine to healthcare providers immediately — but not all, Dr. Piercey said.

“There were a few that waited a day or two,” Dr. Piercey said. “I don’t have the optics on their rationale behind that. We encouraged them to start administering them as soon as they received them.”

One possibility is that some hospitals are staggering the dosages in case of side effects experienced by frontline workers, she said.

The Department of Health initially made the controversial decision to withhold a portion of vaccines as backup.

On Monday, Dr. Piercey announced that, because there was no spoilage or breakage in vaccine shipments, those stored vaccines would now be distributed. They include 5,000 does of the Moderna vaccine and 975 doses of Pfizer vaccines. The Pfizer vaccines are now being allocated Nashville General Hospital, the city’s safety net hospital, Dr. Piercey said.