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With Vaccine In Short Supply, Tennessee Favors Health Departments Over Hospitals

Ballad Health

Tennessee hospitals are largely suspending their efforts to vaccinate patients in their systems against COVID-19. But they say it’s not because of a new state rule that they have to offer doses to the wider community.

Instead, they’re citing a new policy from the state that they say makes it impossible to keep vaccination clinics open. Regardless, the decision represents a dramatic shift in how Tennesseans will be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

First, the Tennessee Department of Health told hospitals in a letter dated Jan. 4 to get the vaccine out to their existing patients 75 and over. But then last week, the state changed course and said they have to offer the vaccine to the wider public, not just those that they have a previous relationship with.


At the same time, hospitals were warned that they’ll be getting far fewer doses because supplies from the federal government haven’t ramped up as expected.

“The majority of hospitals view it as part of their responsibility to the community to be a part of the vaccination effort and want to be,” says Dr. Wendy Long, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association. “But they also are just looking for some clear direction, and we thought we had it.”

Long is referring to hospitals’ prior role at the forefront of vaccine distribution. She says they would be happy to continue running  vaccination sites — if they could get a steady supply of vaccine.

“The reason they’ve backed off is because of a lack of vaccine and not that they haven’t been willing to play by a new set of rules,” she says, specifically citing an announcement by Ballad Health to close down community vaccination sites in northeast Tennessee.

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