This is a summary of a press conference Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee held on Friday about the COVID-19 vaccines. Brief comments were made about FBI raids at state lawmakers’ offices and homes.
Lee opening statements:
He mentioned the New Year and how Tennesseans are starting a new chapter in the state.
Lee said he spoke yesterday with the “new Biden administration” on the coronavirus response.
“I look forward to working together in the coming days,” he said.
Lee mentioned the protests at the U.S. Capitol. People have relied too much on politics. Our national identity has never been politics – it’s been principles, such as unity, compassion and thoughtful politics.
We are now deep into vaccine distribution. It is open to people 75 and older due to their risk and hospitalizations; they account for over 65 percent of hospitalizations and deaths.
The barrier continues to be the limited supply.
We are encouraged by the number of Tennesseans who want to get a vaccine.
Tennessee is among the first to participate in the new round of the CARES Act.
We will continue virtual career fairs to connect people with available jobs.
Clarence Carter will lead the Human Services Department.
We are preparing for the Legislature’s special session on education on Jan. 19. More details are coming next week.
Dr. Lisa Piercey, Health Department:
We have vaccinated over 215,000, or about 3 percent of the population. Some counties are over the 7 percent mark.
We are doing well compared to other states on doses given and available supplies.
Limited supply: We cannot control the supply. Our goal is to distribute it as soon as possible.
Over 90 percent of nursing homes are working with the federal-CVS-Walgreens partnership. That allocation will continue through January. When we get vaccine doses, we give some of that to them. About half of the skilled nursing facilities, with the sickest patients, have been completed. The dashboard data is lagging on its reports.
Assisted living facilities should start giving vaccines by the middle of next week.
Lee: Antibodies: We have therapeutics, monoclonal antibodies, that are effective, especially for the elderly and with comorbidities.
Piercey: They are 85 to 90 percent effective in preventing the disease from progressing. You need to seek treatment as soon as you test positive.
Q: FBI agents are at Cordell Hull searching Legislative offices and some homes of lawmakers. What do you know about that, and have agents been to any executive office yet?
Lee: I spoke with Speaker Cameron Sexton this morning. I am aware of the raids. It is certainly very concerning. I know very little about that. There has been no FBI outreach to us.
Q: What are your thoughts on the president’s role in the riots?
Lee: I have been focused … leaders need to be focused on how we move forward. What happened was tragic. I completely condemn the violence that took place. We will advocate on what’s best for Tennesseans with Biden.
Q: In Shelby County, officials say they are on their final doses and are trying to learn about future shipments. What can you say about a second allotments to counties?
Piercey: There is not any unused vaccine sitting around. I told all health departments their goal is to run out as quickly as possible … there are some days they do not have vaccine. Now that we got through the initial ramp up, we are finding a regular cadence. Vaccines ship on Mondays, arrive on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays we order the next shipment. On the weekends, we learn how much we will get.
Q: What help do you hope to get from Biden?
Lee: Yesterday we spoke to their COVID-19 team and several governors. We spoke about supply of the vaccines and federal funding and therapeutics. We spoke about mass testing and vaccine sites in Tennessee. The governors spoke about regional efforts.
Q: Can you give teachers pay raises to help them with their struggles?
Lee: Teachers have had an incredible challenge. We hope to have pay increases.
Q: What works well in distributing the vaccine?
Lee: The CDC said Tennessee had the best plan for distribution. We have been flexible. Our model has centered around a person’s risk, including social equity. What has not worked well is not having enough vaccine.
Lee closing remark: I remain encouraged where we are going as a country.