Shelby County officials vaccine plan to address racial disparities

    Tory Watson of Memphis Police Department gets his vaccine. First responders Memphis and Shelby County police officers, firefighters and EMTs get COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday Dec. 29, 2020. The Shelby County Health Department is administering the shots in a process that will go on for several weeks. (© Karen Pulfer Focht)
    Tory Watson of Memphis Police Department gets his vaccine. First responders Memphis and Shelby County police officers, firefighters and EMTs get COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday Dec. 29, 2020. The Shelby County Health Department is administering the shots in a process that will go on for several weeks. (© Karen Pulfer Focht)

    Shelby County Health Department officials say they have long term COVID vaccination plans to address any potential racial disparities, a particular concern in Memphis, a majority minority city. 

    According to the Tennessee Department of Health, current data shows less than 4% percent of Tennesseans who have received the COVID-19 vaccine identify as Black – and less than 2% identify as Hispanic, but health officials said there is insufficient data to prove a healthcare disparity. 

    Alisa Haushalter, director, Shelby County Health Department (Photo: SCHD)
    Alisa Haushalter, director, Shelby County Health Department (Photo: SCHD)

    “We know, long term, we have to put mechanisms in place to ensure equal access and that people have information to make an informed decision,” said Alisa Haushalter, director of Shelby County Health Department. 

    Local officials and healthcare advocates have voiced concerns that minority communities have not had equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Shelby County is in the process of vaccinating medical staff and will soon move on to those aged 75 and older and mortuary workers. 

    Shelby County and Memphis city officials are preparing the community with information about the vaccine and working on creating vaccine signup systems. City officials plan to use existing data to establish which vulnerable communities will require vaccination sites.

    Health officials are also working on removing social barriers. COVID-19 vaccinations require identification in order to reach recipients for their second dose of the vaccine. Initially, health care providers required driver licenses to provide proof of eligibility, but advocates said this created barriers and are enabling residents to use other types of identification.

    The Shelby County Department of Health also has limited vaccine supplies but Haushalter said all extra doses are being administered according to a vaccine queue. 

    “Vaccines are not sitting on the shelf,” she said. “We don’t have sufficient supplies.”

    Shelby County’s plan is to vaccinate 70% of the county’s population within the next year — about 650,000 people twice while receiving 8,900 doses each week — a total that doesn’t add up and makes the task impossible.

    Once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, the Biden administration is expected to open supply chains and has promised to administer 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.