Health officials: It could take a year to reach herd immunity in Shelby County

WATCH: Health officials: It could take a year to reach herd immunity in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — COVID vaccines are continuing to roll out across Shelby County, but health officials on Tuesday said it could take a year before enough vaccines are distributed to reach herd immunity which happens when so many people are immune the virus stops spreading.

Health leaders said the goal is to vaccinate at least 70 percent of people in the county. But they said the national vaccine supply is scarce, so getting them out to people will be a slow process.

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Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said that could take a year or longer.

“All of us are really at the mercy of the national supply chain,” Harris said. “When I say that, I mean the local health department and the state of Tennessee.”

Harris was hopeful the supply chain will open up as more vaccine producers enter the market.

“It is possible one of those companies may get approval for a single-dose vaccine,” he said. “If that happens, we may be able to cut our vaccination process in half.”

Health director Alisa Haushalter said so far, Shelby County has received about 12,000 doses of the vaccine. Almost 9,500 people have received their first injections. That’s less than two percent of the entire county.

Last week, the focus was mostly on first responders and front-line healthcare workers. This week, they’re focusing on people who live in nursing homes and other congregate settings.

“As the week went along, what I recognized was we had some open slots not being filled by appointments,” Haushalter said. “So we opened to funeral and mortuary workers to fill in.”

Haushalter said the county will soon open a third drive-thru vaccination site at the Pipkin Building on Tiger Lane.

She said they’re working to identify where they can open pop-up and roving sites in the county.

“It’s going to be critical we go to other geographical areas over time to be able to administer the vaccine,” she said.

Until we get to the point where at least 70 percent of people are vaccinated, health officials said it is so important to continue to wear masks socially distance and avoid crowds.