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Unused doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will soon no longer go only to those well-connected in Shelby County.
Vaccine doses go unused when patients don’t show for their appointments. No-shows can happen, for example, in inclement weather, according to Shelby County Health Department officials. Now, those unused doses go to those who are connected in the healthcare system, for example, or in government and political systems.
“Right now, people just have to hope that they're in the know, or they know someone who will contact them and let them know that there are additional vaccines that are available at the end of the day,” said Danielle Inez, chief of staff to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “Now we're trying to make that process more equitable, and so anybody that wants to be in the know is allowed to sign up to receive that information.”
To get there, county and health department leaders unveiled a new system Monday, January 25th, called Vax Queue, that will allow a county-wide waiting list for those standby doses. The system will allow any county resident to sign up.
On the site, they give their name, contact information, and prioritizing information about their age, where they work, and more. Then, if an unused dose becomes available, the person gets a text or email telling them where to show up. But the unused shots are first-come, first-served and the alert does not guarantee the person will get the vaccine.
Shelby County government workers are testing a Vax Queue pilot currently. The system is expected to roll out county-wide later this week.
“We knew on Friday, going into Saturday, that we had over 1,000 doses left,” said health department director Alisa Haushalter. “We wanted to get those 1,000 doses out. We also knew that we had sufficient staffing, and that we had some no-shows. So, the message was sent out knowing that we could probably accommodate several hundred additional people.”
Shelby County government
Shelby County leaders during Monday's preview of Vax Queue.
But how many get the message depends on staffing, how many car lanes are open at a vaccination site, how much vaccine is available, and how many people can go through the system, Haushalter said. But with the math aside and the number of people to get the message determined, identifying those who would get the unused doses was less scientific.
The health department has used the system “we already have,” Haushalter said. That is the ability to “text to those who we either know or have connections to. That might be organizational leaders and so on.”
“But in doing that, it always creates an inequity because everyone may not have received the information in a timely manner,” Haushalter said.
Moving to the new Vax Queue system will allow more equity as every county resident can sign up. Haushalter said it will also be a more science-informed approach. The system will prioritize the resident with their age and other information to sort them into their vaccination phase. So, only those in the current vaccine phase will be called for these standby doses. Also, anyone without internet service can register on Vax Queue by calling (901) 222-SHOT.