Q&A: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Williamson County—wait times, second doses, waitlists and more

COVID-19 vaccines are currently in limited supply in the county. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19 vaccines are currently in limited supply in the county. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)

COVID-19 vaccines are currently in limited supply in the county. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)

Many residents have had questions in recent weeks regarding the coronavirus vaccine as the Tennessee Department of Health continues its phased rollout of the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna versions of the vaccines. To help clear up misinformation and provide answers to common questions, the Williamson County Emergency Management Agency held an online forum Jan. 29 in partnership with the Williamson County Public Library.

How do I register for the vaccine?

Williamson County currently has a waitlist for the vaccine. After residents sign up for the list, they will receive a confirmation number, which is not to be confused with an appointment time. The county is only vaccinating those in phases 1A1, 1A2 and those age 75 and older. Only eligible residents can sign up for the waitlist at this time, according to the county.

Residents must provide a working email or phone number and should check messages daily for information regarding appointments as they will have a short amount of time to respond to appointment opportunities from the state, according to Hannah Bleam, public information officer for the WCEMA.

WCEMA Director Todd Horton said the state is expected to move to a Microsoft-based signup system next month, after which new signup information will be communicated through the WCEMA.

Where can I find what phase I'm in?

Residents can find what phase of the vaccine rollout they will be in here.

What if I have already registered—when will my appointment be scheduled?

For residents who have already signed up for the waitlist, it could take a while before they receive an appointment to receive the vaccine.

"This process before you receive an appointment could take several weeks, and that's important to know, depending on vaccine availability at the end of the day," Bleam said. "This process can take some time; we have people calling into the information line saying, "I've been on the waitlist for two weeks, and I haven't heard anything; am I still on the list?' Yes, you're still on the list if you haven't received a notification yet, and they're going to be working down that list based off of eligibility."

How many people are on the waitlist?

There are an estimated 3,000-plus people on the waitlist as of late January, Horton said. However, he said this number may not be entirely accurate as people have since received the vaccine in another county and not taken their name off the list, or residents have attempted to sign up multiple times.

"We do have a significant number of people on the waitlist, and as vaccines become available to us, we're immediately scheduling those individuals into available slots," Horton said. "The vaccine has increased its frequency of coming to Williamson County, and so we expect that people will be moved off of that waitlist fairly quickly, although I'm not able to give you an exact estimation of how long that will take."

Horton said it is not uncommon for those in age-based phases who have already signed up for the waitlist to have a two to three-week wait.

"It does depend on where an individual is on the waitlist, but it is not uncommon for someone to have to wait two to three weeks, especially since the availability of vaccine has been very low," he said.

What if I'm not eligible for the waitlist yet?

For residents not in current phases of vaccination, Bleam said they can sign up to receive an alert via text or email for when the state does move into their phase. Residents will answer a survey to determine which phase they are in.

This is not a registration for the vaccine or a vaccine appointment. Residents can register for alerts here.

Why are some counties farther ahead in vaccinating residents?

Some counties, such as those in West Tennessee, have moved to Phase 1B and are slightly father ahead, according to data from the TDH. Horton said this is because vaccine allocation is based on population size, which can affect phase timing depending on what portion of the population, such as health care workers and first responders, qualify for early phases.

"Not every county will be in the same phase, and that's for a number of reasons," he said. "The Tennessee Department of Health only regulates certain health departments, Williamson County being one of those. There are eight metropolitan health departments, like Davidson County, that run their own health departments and that the state does not control. So they may move through phases are a different rate for that reason The other reason is because different counties receive different amounts of vaccine based on their population, and so, for instance, Williamson County may have more health care workers and public safety employees than another county, so it may take us longer to move through those populations than it might another county."

Residents can find county statuses here.

Can I go to another county to get the vaccine?

Residents can chose to travel to another county in the state to receive the vaccine as the TDH has authorized counties to vaccinate all eligible Tennesseans.

However, Bleam said residents must receive their second dose in the same county and location. This is done because the state allocates vaccine based on where initial doses were administered, Horton said.

What if I missed my appointment opportunity?

Residents who are unable to make their given appointment time or missed their message form the state on scheduling an appointment should sign up again for the waitlist, Bleam said.

Why is the county only administering the vaccine in certain hours?

"Our vaccination hours are determined by the state, and the state has told us that we will vaccinate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon-4 p.m. We will also now begin vaccinating Saturday from 9 a.m.-noon," Horton said. "These hours are state-set by the department of health, so that's what we must operate under since we're a state-run health department."

Horton said the county will expand hours should the state allow it to do so.

Where is the vaccine administered?

Residents who have appointments for the vaccine will receive it at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center at 4215 Long Lane, Franklin.

When residents arrive, they will be directed by signs and staff on where to drive to and will remain in their cars. Residents are asked to wait 15 minutes in the parking lot afterward to ensure they do not have any adverse reactions to the vaccine as well as to sign up for an additional appointment to receive their second dose, Horton said. Staff will be on hand to help with this process, he said.

Williamson Medical Center is currently vaccinating health care workers but may be authorized to vaccinate other phases in the future.

Additional providers, including private physicians and retail pharmacies, are expected to be approved to administer the vaccine in the future, Horton said. That approval will be determined by the TDH.

What is the county doing to ensure no vaccine doses are wasted?

Horton said the county is utilizing its waitlist to fill any empty appointment slots each day to ensure no doses are wasted if an individual does not show up for their scheduled time.

What if I'm not sure if I should get the vaccine?

Residents who are not sure whether they should receive the vaccine should contact their primary care physician, according to the WCEMA.

Will there be enough vaccines for second doses?

"This is a precarious balance that must be managed in order to ensure people who received the first dose are able to receive the second dose of vaccine," Horton said. "So presently in Williamson County, we have not had to hold back any vaccine for second doses because we are sure at this point we are going to receive enough to administer those second dose vaccines. Should there be some disruption in the supply chain, we may have to change our course of action based on the state's recommendations, but at this point we are not having to do so."

Do I still need to wear a mask after receiving the vaccine?

Residents are advised to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing until advised otherwise, per guidance from the Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Who can I call if I need help with the waitlist?

Residents can call the county's vaccine information line at 615-595-4880 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.