Nashville Mayor John Cooper cautioned residents on Thursday that there will not be a sudden surge in COVID-19 vaccine distribution that would allow the city to advance “more rapidly” on its immunization timeline.

Cooper began his press conference updating the state of the pandemic by shooting down media reports that there was a national stockpile of the vaccine. Cooper said those who are eligible are being vaccinated when doses come in. Nashville could handle giving out four to five times more daily doses than it is currently receiving, Cooper said.

On the same day Cooper detailed how the gradual release of the vaccine is impacting the approximately 700,000 residents of Davidson County, President Joe Biden, in his first full day in office, unveiled his administration’s vaccine strategy.

Biden signed a series of executive orders and outlined a strategy to ramp up production and distribution of the vaccine, with the ambitious goal of providing 100 million doses during the first 100 days of his presidency.

Sophie Whitaker, a respiratory therapist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, got one of the first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 17. (Photo: Sam Stockard)
Sophie Whitaker, a respiratory therapist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, got one of the first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 17. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

“There had been a report that half of all manufactured vaccines were being held back in reserves. This turned out to be false,” Cooper said. “And without this reserve, there will not be a sudden surge in vaccine distribution, and cities like Nashville will not be able to advance more rapidly on our immunization timelines.

“We need more doses for Nashvillians as quickly as possible. This is our No. 1 tool for rebound and recovery.”

Cooper said healthcare providers across Nashville had administered 64,194 total doses of the vaccine as of Jan. 19, including just over 18,000 second doses.

While private companies have administered the vast majority of the vaccine doses, the city’s health department has given out just under 10,000 doses so far. The first phase of distribution focuses on elderly residents as well as frontline healthcare workers. Metro is about halfway through its first phase goal, Cooper said.

“By mid-February we expect to be vaccinating Nashvillians in phases 1B, and that includes teachers and child care workers,” Cooper said, adding that about 25,000 people will be included in that phase.

Cooper said the city, along with its private sector partners, could vaccinate four or five times more people daily safely, and with no wait times.

“But in order to do that, we need more vaccine,” Cooper said.

Just hours after Cooper described how the federal government’s rollout of the vaccine is not keeping pace with local government’s ability to administer it, Biden explained his plan to speed up the process.

Nashville could handle giving out four to five times more daily doses than it is currently receiving, Mayor John Cooper said Thursday.

As he promised to do on the campaign trail, Biden invoked the national Defense Production Act in order to speed up production of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines that were approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

At a press conference, Biden detailed other strategies to vaccinate more Americans as quickly as possible.

Biden directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin implementing the first community vaccination centers with the goal of 100 centers within the next month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also launch a federal pharmacy program to make vaccines available to local pharmacies by Feb. 7 or 8.

And Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the pool of medical professionals able to administer the vaccine to ensure there are enough vaccinators to meet the needs of each community.

Biden said the federal government would take additional steps to partner with governors and mayors, as well as designating a COVID-19 response liaison for each state.

“Our national strategy is comprehensive. It’s based on science, not politics,” Biden said, calling the goal of 100 million vaccines in 100 days one of the greatest operational challenges the nation has ever undertaken. “It’s based on truth not denial, and it’s detailed.”

Dr. James Hildreth (Photo: Twitter)
Dr. James Hildreth (Photo: Twitter)

At Cooper’s press conference on Thursday, Meharry Medical College President and CEO Dr. James Hildreth championed the safety of the vaccine for residents who may be nervous about taking it.

Hildreth explained how the research and development process did not cut corners. Hildreth said he has recommended his own family and friends take the vaccine when their turn comes, and pointed out that millions of doses have already been successfully administered worldwide.

Hildreth detailed how the genome mapping of the COVID-19 vaccine, a process that previously would take two years, was compressed to just one month. He also said development typically followed a sequential process, where one step must be cleared in order to move on to the next step.

But, to speed up the process and meet the urgency of the moment, researchers concurrently advanced through each step in the process. 

And, finally, Hildreth said, the global infrastructure for developing an HIV vaccine was able to be utilized in order to find the successful COVID-19 vaccine.

“These three factors largely contributed to why in the span of 10 months, two vaccines were developed,” Hildreth said.