Report: Health Care Workers Turned Away Elderly Lining Up for Vaccine, Busted Giving Doses to Family and Friends Hours Later


Some seniors in Tennessee this week were allegedly turned away after waiting for hours in line for coronavirus vaccinations, but once they were gone, friends and family members of those who were distributing the doses jumped the line, according to a report.

WRCB-TV reported the stunning display of nepotism that occurred on Thursday evening in Chattanooga at the city’s Tennessee Riverpark, where those who were in line to be inoculated, many of them over the age of 75, were suddenly told to go home.

The miscue in public health service occurred after Hamilton County officials revised their vaccination targets for New Year’s Eve to include all county residents over the age of 75. Word had spread, and by mid-morning, cars were lining up.

Apparently, Hamilton County health officials at one point felt the number of people in line to receive shots exceeded their available stock of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine. The health department issued a public message notifying many who had been waiting to leave and return another time. A tweet shows the alert was posted shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday.

“ALERT: If you are currently in the COVID-19 vaccination line and are beyond the intersection of 153 and Amnicola, please leave the line NOW and return at another time. Check back later today. Many more opportunities will open up soon,” Hamilton Health tweeted.

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The department even offered those who had been waiting for directions on how to leave without blocking a nearby highway.

But just a few hours later, those who were conducting the vaccinations said they had completely run out of vaccine doses. WRCB reported those who had not yet reached the park entrance were asked to leave, and that included many people over the age of 75 who had waited in vain.

A media release from the health department noted, in part, that “officials didn’t want them to continue sitting in their cars and not get the vaccine because supply was limited.”

Those waiting in line at that point were estimated to be in the hundreds. WRCB reported vaccines had allegedly not run out at all, and once the crowd had dispersed, those whose job it was to ensure the most vulnerable were treated ended up giving away doses to friends and family members.

“Acting on a tip, Channel 3 returned to the Riverpark after dark to find cars leaving the property. The people in those vehicles told Channel 3 family members or friends who were helping to administer the vaccines called to tell them there were extra doses and they should come to receive a dose,” the outlet reported.

WRCB spoke to one driver who was leaving the park who had bragged, “We have got contacts,” after being asked how he and the seven occupants of his car were vaccinated.

Video of that exchange was shared on Twitter by WRCB-TV news director Callie Starnes:

Jim Coppinger, the Hamilton County Mayor, blamed the situation on a “miscalculation” when speaking with the outlet after the story broke. Coppinger explained that once a vial of the Pfizer vaccine is opened, it has to be used before it expires. He also called Thursday’s events a “challenging first day,” and indicated the saga was an honest mistake.

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“Our main priority is to ensure that our vaccine supplies do not go to waste. They must be administered to willing recipients, or we lose those vials of the vaccine. Today, the number of people who drove to the site for their vaccinations was beyond our expectations, and when trying to balance the available vaccines with the number of people in vehicles waiting in line, we made some miscalculations,” he said. “It was difficult to know how many people were in each car. Our staff made a decision to cut off the vaccinations at a certain point, in fear of running out of the vaccine.”

Allegedly, health officials engaged in some porous math, which meant there were vaccines that needed to be used, or they would spoil. Mayor Coppinger explained how the situation devolved into one of nepotism which saw young and healthy people jump in line ahead of one woman who was reported to be 94 years old.

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“However, at day’s end, we realized we still had some vials that had to be used, so staff members contacted people who were known to have requested the vaccine, or who had been unable to be vaccinated at a previously scheduled time. They wanted to make sure that none of it would go to waste,” he said.

The health department announced that 1,158 people were vaccinated on New Year’s Eve.

Coppinger vowed that county officials would use the incident as a learning experience for when vaccines begin being distributed again in the area next week. But that is of little comfort for all those who waited Thursday. One person who waited for hours just to be sent home on Thursday called the experience “a slap in the face.”

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.