coronavirus vaccine

Ryan Van Velzer

Kentucky reported for the first time Thursday the number of COVID-19 cases affecting the state’s vaccinated population.

The state reported 2,795 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 from March through July 21, representing less than 5% of total cases in that time period, said Gov. Andy Beshear at a press conference on Thursday.

Officials cautioned that number is likely an undercount because only those with the most severe symptoms are likely getting tested, and the vaccine is effective at preventing serious illness. Beshear said the low numbers of cases in vaccinated people demonstrates the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“Ninety-five percent of all positive cases were among unvaccinated individuals. That is an enormous statistic,” Beshear said.

Lisa Autry

It’s campaign season in Kentucky and the rest of the country, but not in the political sense. 

A vaccination campaign is underway against highly contagious coronavirus variants that are particularly a threat to unvaccinated individuals.  As Kentucky marks three consecutive weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases, the key to beating the virus remains winning the undecideds. 

The Bluegrass State confirmed more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest single-day increase the commonwealth has seen since March 11.  On top of that, the Delta variant has become the dominant and most aggressive strain in the state.  Given that it's more fatal than other variants,  Myrna Denny decided it was time to get vaccinated. 

“Relax, deep breath. Relax those shoulders," instructed a healthcare worker at Denny's appointment.

Denny was at a mass vaccination clinic run by the Medical Center in Bowling Green.  She’d been hesitant to get the shot after having an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine several years.

Shalina Chatlani | WPLN News (File)

COVID hospitalizations have doubled in Tennessee since the Fourth of July — from 195 to 408. It’s a manageable number — given hospitals cared for more than 3,300 COVID patients at one point in January — but a worrying trend in a state with less than 40% of residents fully vaccinated.

The Tennessee Department of Health says 97% of the new COVID cases are among people who had not been vaccinated. And for most of those who get sick after vaccination, like Beth Downey of Nashville did this month, they almost certainly won’t need to be hospitalized. She says her symptoms were mild enough to pass for allergies.

“Due to traveling to see family, I thought just to be safe, go get a COVID test. And lo and behold, it was positive,” she says.

Delta Variant Fueling Rise In Kentucky COVID-19 Cases

Jul 20, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cases of COVID-19 are again on the rise in Kentucky prompting Gov. Andy Beshear to issue a new round of recommendations to combat the spread of the Delta variant.  

New cases have nearly tripled in Kentucky since late June with 2,992 cases reported last week. The positivity rate, which in recent months dipped below 1%, is now at 5.48%. State health experts estimate more than half of all new cases are attributable to the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than the original virus. 

The Delta variant poses the greatest risk to unvaccinated Kentuckians, though higher case counts also encompass a higher number of “breakthrough cases,” where vaccinated people come down with the virus.

Public Health Commission Dr. Steven Stack said the more unvaccinated people in a population, the greater the risk is for everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to contract the virus. But the inverse is also true. As the number of vaccinations increased from March through June, the overall number of infections decreased.


Tennessee’s top vaccine official says she has been fired as punishment for doing her job in the face of political pushback.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus was caught up in a controversy after she passed along legal guidance to health providers saying teenagers do not need parents’ consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot — a position established by decades of state law.

“Specifically, it was MY job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19,” Fiscus said in a scathing statement about her firing. “I have now been terminated for doing exactly that.”

Tennessee’s leaders have betrayed the public trust, Fiscus says, accusing them of putting their own political gains ahead of the people’s well-being. She defended her colleagues in the health sector who have been fighting the pandemic — and she notably took umbrage that a lawmaker had called the state health department’s actions “reprehensible.”

Ryan Van Velzer

After the firing of Tennessee’s top vaccine expert, Nashville Democratic Representative John Ray Clemmons is calling for an explanation from the governor and the health commissioner. He says the firing is a “slap in the face” to government employees, and worries it will make it difficult to hire a qualified replacement.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the now-former medical director at the Tennessee Department of Health, gave the Tennessean a copy of her termination letter, which doesn’t explain why she was fired on Monday. Fiscus says that she was a scapegoat to appease state lawmakers, who threatened to dissolve the state health department for encouraging teenagers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Her name came up in a June hearing because of a letter sent from her office to doctors around the state.

Kentucky Wesleyan College

A small private college in Owensboro set July 1 as the date for all faculty and staff to have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, the school is easing its stance a bit for those who are not yet vaccinated. 

Kentucky Wesleyan College said it’s requiring the coronavirus vaccination so it can offer a safe, residential experience for students, keep faculty and staff safe, and serve as an example for Owensboro community. 

President Tom Mitzel said there’s been a good response to the required vaccination. 

“Right now, we have about 90% of the faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated," said Mitzel. "The rest of that percent are those who are requesting either a medical or religious exemption, or got their shots late and are not fully vaccinated.” Mitzel said the college will work with faculty and staff who need more time to complete the required doses.

Facebook/Kentucky Wesleyan College

Colleges across the Bluegrass State are developing a range of COVID-19 safety plans as students return to campus for in-person classes.

The deadline for required vaccinations is Thursday at one campus in Owensboro.

Kentucky Wesleyan College set a July 1 deadline for all faculty and staff who work on campus to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

School leaders said the mandated vaccination is now part of the private college’s employment policy. 

Studies have found that Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against several variants of concern, including the delta variant, the biotech company announced.

Moderna said Tuesday that recently completed studies have found the vaccine to have a neutralizing effect against all COVID-19 variants tested, including the beta, delta, eta and kappa variants.

First Christian Church of Owensboro

While many parts of Kentucky, and the nation, are reporting lower demand for COVID-19 vaccines, one partnership in Owensboro is offering a drive-through vaccination clinic Thursday.

The partnership includes the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, Green River District Health Department, and First Christian Church.

Chamber President Candace Castlen Brake says she’s hoping this clinic is as successful as the previous one her group sponsored.

“The last one we had, the health department team had to go back and get more J&J’s,” Brake said, referring to the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “Because a lot of men were coming to get the single vaccinations, and they could do it there, and if they had a little bit of anxiety, it was more private, because they got to sit in their car.”

Ryland Barton

A group of Republican lawmakers has filed a bill that would ban Kentucky businesses and schools from asking whether employees, students or customers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The measure would also expand the state’s civil rights code, banning businesses from denying services based on someone’s “immunization status.”

Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge and one of the bill’s sponsors, said institutions shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on whether they have received the vaccine.

“Overall the intent here is to protect the privacy rights of citizens across the commonwealth. No aspect of this legislation is intended to in any way curtail the efforts at large to encourage people to receive a vaccine,” Maddox said.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

A more infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus, known as the Delta variant, is on the move in Tennessee. The state’s health department has counted about 20 cases so far, concentrated in Shelby County.

The number is almost certainly an undercount since a majority of positive COVID tests are not screened to determine the particular strain. And if they’re not distributed statewide yet, they won’t be isolated for long.

“Just like with any variant, people travel. So will the variant,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.

The variant, first discovered in India, is turning out to be more contagious and more likely to send people to the hospital. It’s led to a surge of cases in southwest Missouri in recent weeks.

The country will narrowly miss President Biden's goal of having 70% of the U.S. adult population at least partially vaccinated by July 4, according to a White House official who did not want to get ahead of the public announcement.

But the official also noted that 70% of those 30 and older have already been vaccinated a week and a half ahead of Independence Day and that those 27 and older are expected to also reach the 70% mark by July 4.

Mary Meehan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is closing its two COVID-19 vaccination centers in Kentucky on Thursday, June 10.

In April, FEMA opened military-run vaccination clinics in Henderson and Laurel counties, both rural areas with lower vaccination rates at the time. 

The clinic at the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Agency was capable of giving 250 doses of the vaccine per day, but averaged about 40 injections daily.  Henderson Mayor Steve Austin said the clinic was a bit out of the way and may have posed a transportation challenge for some residents.

“Honestly, the walk-in clinic didn’t draw the number of people we hoped it would," Austin told WKU Public Radio. However, the satellite vans they sent out to different areas did very well.”

Beshear Announces Lottery For Vaccinated Kentuckians

Jun 4, 2021
Commonwealth of Kentucky

Kentucky residents have a chance at winning a million dollars or a full ride scholarship to a state university in a new effort to bolster vaccination rates. 

Governor Andy Beshear announced the “Shot at a Million” lottery for vaccinated Kentuckians on Friday, joining states like Ohio and West Virginia in efforts to bolster vaccination rates with monetary incentives  

“If you’ve already gotten your shot, good for you. You’re eligible. All you have to do is sign up,” Beshear said. “If you haven’t gotten your shot, go get it and get qualified for this amazing opportunity.”

Three vaccinated Kentuckians over the age of 18 will win a million dollars while 15 vaccinated kids ages 12 to 17 will win a full ride scholarship to a state college, university or trade school, including tuition, room-and-board and books.