NASHVILLE—Dr. Lisa Piercy, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), recently addressed the Tennessee Press Association (TPA) regarding COVID-19. Dr. Piercy took questions from TPA members surrounding vaccine distribution, supply and phases.

Vaccine supply was the main concern among the press, especially in rural areas. Dr. Piercy said the state was told to expect an uptick in supply as early as the final week of February.

Around the same time, a third vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson through Janssen Pharmaceutical Company, would likely enter circulation. The vaccine reported an effective rate of 72% for preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 in the U.S. and “demonstrated complete protection against COVID-19 related hospitalization and death” 28 days after vaccination, according to Johnson & Johnson. The vaccine would be a single-dose vaccine.

Dr. Piercy addressed the new variants of the virus that have been discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. She mentioned that of the three, the UK variant, B.1.1.7, is the only one to have been found in Tennessee. The variant appears to spread more easily, but there are mixed reports in regards to the relative severity of the strain.

The South African variant, B.1.351, also appears to be more contagious, but does not appear any more deadly at this time.

The Brazil variant, P.1, is in low enough numbers that is has been hard to study, but Astra-Zeneca reported that their vaccine candidate only offered minimal protection against specifically the P.1 variant.

Overall, there has been no evidence to suggest that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations are any less effective against these variants.

Dr. Piercy also addressed a common concern she referred to as “vaccine tourism,” by which residents were receiving vaccines in counties other than their home counties and potentially taking away vaccine supply from residents of those counties.

She asserted that most cases of vaccine tourism were the result of healthcare workers and other vaccine-eligible residents receiving the vaccine at their jobs in counties outside of their own.

Dr. Piercy’s final talking point was the state’s vaccine sign-up procedure. As of February 11, residents who wanted the vaccine could sign-up for a waiting list and would receive a call from the health department when a vaccine became available to them.

Dr. Piercy mentioned that within the next few weeks, the state hopes to roll out a fully online scheduling platform, which would allow interested residents to schedule their vaccination online rather than waiting for a call from the department.

As always, the most reliable and up-to-date source for information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee is the health department’s COVID-19 dashboard at covid19.tn.gov.

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