On Feb. 6, Franklin-based Mercy Community Healthcare held its first vaccination event, distributing 100 doses to residents who are eligible under the state's current vaccine phases.
The clinic offers health care services to underserved and uninsured populations and has operated in the area for more than 20 years.
Mercy Community Healthcare is now one of several sites distributing the vaccine after receiving approval from the state. On Jan. 28, the Tennessee Department of Health announced it would expand vaccine distribution to community health centers and pharmacies in addition to existing county-run sites to help reach more rural and underserved areas.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Don Gibson said the clinic received the vaccines after applying to be a distribution site weeks ago.
"We started applying for the vaccine probably about a month ago, and we became an approved health care center. To get approved, you you have to meet certain qualifications, and we specifically were approved because we serve underserved and uninsured patients in Williamson County and the surrounding counties," Gibson said. "But the approval process requires that we submit our history of vaccine administration—which we do vaccines all day, everyday—and then we had to go through the process to have our freezer checked and our refrigerator checked to make sure they're the right temperatures. So the state did a really good job about [saying,] 'If you want the vaccine you have to be able to store it, you have to prove that you can give it, give it correctly and upload to the state website.'"
From there, Gibson said the clinic had about a week to set up the vaccine process and work on getting the vaccine to local residents.
"We had applied about a month ago, but we didn't know when or if we were going to get it we got an email notification about a week ago, and so in one week, our team put together a website, a reservation system; we did marketing and public relations, and we had all our spots filled ... pretty quickly," Gibson said. "We really muscled up, and we have a lot of people here to support today, but that's just who are employees are; they're really nice people to work with."
Beth Ann Wilmore, the director of nursing for Mercy Community Healthcare, said the vaccine has to be handled very carefully to ensure no doses are wasted.
"From the time I put it in the refrigerator, it has 30 days to be used, and once I pop the top and puncture the vial, it only has six hours," Wilmore said.
Gibson said all 100 doses were administered in a matter of hours to those in phases 1A1 and 1A2 and those age 70 and older.
Williamson County residents James and Catherine Crier signed up for the event and said they are glad to see the progress being made and are hopeful that more people will be able to be vaccinated soon.
"The country's making progress, and I'm glad more people are getting it," James Crier said. "The security of knowing that more and more people are getting the shot [is good], and now that we're getting it, we can go out shopping, and it's going to be [safer]."
Following the vaccine, patients are required to wait for about 15 minutes to ensure they do not have an adverse reaction to the vaccine and are given information on safety precautions to take, such as continuing to wear masks and social distance in public spaces.
Gibson said the clinic quickly ran out of appointment slots for its Feb. 6 vaccination event, but he hopes to get more vaccines on a weekly basis and will update the organization's new COVID-19 webpage as soon as there are more doses available so people can sign up for appointments.
"Right now, it's week to week, so we got 100 doses this week at our Franklin and Lewisburg locations, and we asked for another 100 next week at both locations," he said. "The best way to find our our vaccine availability is at www.mercytn.org/covid."