Like most people around the world, Edward Wyatt hasn’t been able to live a normal life since the pandemic began.
At age 75, Wyatt is at high risk for a serious or fatal novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, so when Tennessee altered its vaccine plan to allow those 75 and older to receive the vaccine, Wyatt jumped at the opportunity.
There was just one issue: Supply.
Because vaccine supplies have been limited, Wyatt hasn’t been able to schedule an appointment for his first dose of the vaccine, and hasn’t been able to get answers as to when he might be able to.
During a phone call with the Washington County Health Department, Wyatt said he was told to get his vaccine at the Bristol Motor Speedway dragstrip, where the Sullivan County Regional Health Department has been doing drive-through vaccinations — a trip he can’t make due to health issues.
In separate statements to the Press, state and regional health officials asked people to only seek vaccinations in their county of residence or employment, as supply is allocated based on population.
Now as he nears an appointment for an operation on his eyes, Wyatt worries about going into a hospital without being vaccinated.
“When are we going to get this thing, because time’s a wasting,” Wyatt asked. “I’ve got an operation here on my eyes pretty soon and I don’t want to go into a hospital or something with all this stuff raging around me. I don’t want (the virus), I don’t think it’d do me any good.”
Throughout the pandemic, local health officials have stressed safety protocols in place to protect those visiting its facilities.
Bob McGough, 77, is another Washington County resident waiting to hear back about his vaccine.
McGough said he tried scheduling an appointment the first day the opportunity opened up to those 75 and older, but hasn’t been able to get his vaccination either. He said he was dismayed that Sullivan County can vaccinate its eligible population while Washington County can’t.
“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,” McGough said. “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.”
In an email to the Press, Dr. David Kirschke, the Northeast Regional Health Office’s medical director, said the office had little to no vaccine to distribute this week, but said anyone who’s already registered will be called in the order they registered when they receive the vaccine. Kirschke also said people should begin registering online using the state’s new system, which should help with scheduling.
“They should wait for that link to open up and get on the waiting list,” Kirschke said on Monday. “Again, we will call residents as vaccine becomes available in each county.”
The Northeast Regional Health Office encompasses Washington, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Hancock, Hawkins and Greene counties and is under the direction of the state Department of Health. Sullivan County is one of six in the state that operates its own, independent health department.
Kirschke said the main limiting factor in getting people vaccinated has been supply, which has been difficult to forecast in advance. Sullivan County has faced similar supply shortages, with Ballad Health stepping in at one point to offer some of their vaccine help keep its drive-through site operating.
Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said Sullivan County is the only one in the region that’s received vaccines from the hospital system, but said staff members have been assisting in other ways, like vaccinating some professionals who would otherwise get their vaccine from the health department.
“I know there’s a lot of people who are eager to get the vaccine — I appreciate that,” Deaton said. “I’d ask you to please be patient as we work through each of these levels.”
A spokesperson from the Tennessee Department of Health said counties statewide have successfully allocated all of their vaccines, and will be receiving more doses, though a timeline wasn’t given. According to data from the TDH, the Washington County Health Department administered 9,078 of its 10,270 vaccines as of Jan. 11. Sullivan County has administered 9,511 of 10,538 allocated vaccines.
Until the supply increases, however, Wyatt and McGough will be left waiting, and hoping, for their turn to get vaccinated.
“I can’t live a normal life till I get the vaccine,” Wyatt said.