Ballad Press Conference - 1/19

Ballad Health's Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels (left) and Ballad advisor Dr. David Reagan stand in the background. 

Ballad Health on Tuesday announced it will provide the Northeast Regional Health Office with nearly 1,000 doses of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine as supply issues plague local health departments.

Five of the region’s seven health departments reported having no available vaccine Tuesday. According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health, only Greene and Washington counties have some vaccine available, though supplies are limited.

Sullivan County, which operates its own health department, ran out of supply on Tuesday and will not be vaccinating at the remote vaccination site at the Bristol Dragway Wednesday. Second-dose vaccinations will be available at the Kingsport Civic Center Auditorium starting Wednesday.

“We’re certainly in contact with our health departments to make sure that if we have extra (doses) we can redistribute, because everyone’s goal is to get it into an arm,” said Ballad Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift.

Swift said Ballad will provide the Northeast Regional Health Department with 975 doses of the vaccine later this week. A spokesperson for the health office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ballad previously supplied around 3,000 doses to the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.

The Northeast Regional Health Office oversees health departments in Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties.

Last week, several Washington County residents stuck waiting for their chances for vaccination took issue with Ballad’s transfer of doses to Sullivan County’s Health Department.

“It just seems to me that Washington County is either being short-changed, they’ve dropped the ball, the state has dropped the ball or the feds have dropped — somebody’s dropped the ball,” said 77-year-old Bob McGough. “It’s just frustrating that Sullivan County seems to be able to supply and take care of their people better than Washington County is for whatever the reason.”

Swift said the hospital system’s plan was always to vaccinate its own personnel first and then coordinate with health departments to determine their needs. This week, Swift said, Ballad plans to reassess needs of the health departments and “see where we go from there.”

“This week is really just to touch base with them,” Swift said.

Ballad has administered 21,665 first doses of the vaccine and 9,272 second doses. About 57% of its employees have elected to get vaccinated thus far.

“We continue our vaccination efforts as you’ve seen, and those have been very successful,” Ballad Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels said. “We continue to work with our local health departments as we plan for continued vaccination, as we’re supporting them in that process.”

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