AARP AARP States Tennessee Health & Wellbeing

The COVID-19 Vaccine in Tennessee

  • En español | Tennessee is now administering COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna to residents age 75 and up. But many seniors have not been able to get a vaccine because of high demand for a limited number of doses.
  • Tennessee’s first phase of vaccine distribution is split into two tiers. The first consists of health care workers dealing directly with patients, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders and people age 18 and up who can’t live independently. The second tier includes most other health care workers and funeral workers. People 75 and up will be vaccinated at the same time as this second tier. Vaccines are now available to these groups.
  • State health officials believe they’ll begin vaccinating people age 65 and up at some point in February or March, and people 55 and over at some point in the second quarter of 2021. By the third quarter, the state hopes to vaccinate people over age 45, with younger people getting access toward the end of the year.
  • Vaccine news is changing quickly. Check this guide for updates in days ahead.
Tennessee has opened COVID-19 vaccines to the state's top
priority groups.
KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

When can older adults get the vaccine? 

Vaccines are being distributed to Tennesseans age 75 and up, in addition to frontline health care workers, long-term care residents and the rest of the state’s first vaccine priority group. But availability varies from one county to the next.

Contact your county health department to see whether you can get a vaccine. You may be asked to complete a vaccination consent form that could be specific to your county.

Initially, Tennessee prioritized health care workers with direct exposure to patients, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders and people 18 and over who are unable to live independently because of chronic medical conditions or intellectual or developmental disabilities. The state estimates this first priority group, which Tennessee officials call Phase 1a1, has roughly 450,000 people.

The state is still working through this group, but most counties have now also made vaccines available to its second tier of vaccine recipients. This second group, called Phase 1a2, consists of most health care workers who weren’t covered in the first phase, as well as funeral and mortuary workers. In both these first priority groups, older Tennesseans and people who have serious medical conditions like cancer, diabetes or chronic kidney disease are prioritized over younger, healthier people.

Simultaneously to Phase 1a2, the state is vaccinating people at least 75 years old as part of a separate age-based vaccine distribution. After that comes Phase 1b, which encompasses school and childcare staff and first responders who don’t have direct public interaction, like dispatchers and emergency communications staff. Alongside Phase 1b, the state plans to open to vaccines to Tennesseans at least 65 years old. The state hopes to start vaccinating these groups in February or March and will prioritize older residents.

In Phase 1c, the state will vaccinate the roughly 650,000 residents age 16 and over with high-risk medical conditions who weren’t in previous vaccination tiers. Tennessee could begin Phase 1c as soon as March.

From there, the state will vaccinate critical infrastructure workers, such as public transit employees, commercial farmers and social service workers. Around the same time, likely in the second quarter of 2021, people at least 55 years of age should be able to get a vaccine.

AARP is fighting for older Americans to be prioritized in getting COVID-19 vaccines because the science has shown that older people are at higher risk of death. 

Where can I get a vaccine?  

Initially, only at certain hospitals, long-term care facilities and through county health departments. Some counties are setting up vaccination clinics on specific dates, though limited supply and high demand has made it difficult for some people to schedule an appointment. Contact your county health department to determine where you can get a vaccine.

Once more vaccine doses are available, Tennessee plans to open mass vaccination clinics and may partner with pharmacies, hospitals, doctor’s offices and schools to distribute doses. The federal government announced Jan. 12 that it’s urging states to work with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the vaccine to those eligible, and to set up mass vaccination clinics, but it’s not clear when Tennessee will do so.

How do I know when I’m able to get a vaccine?

The state is updating a list of who’s eligible for a vaccine based on availability from county health departments. Tennessee's eligibility questionnaire can also help residents figure out when they'll be able to get a vaccine. The state health department also maintains an interactive map that tracks where vaccines are available and when they’ll likely be distributed to different groups.

AARP recommends that you talk to your doctor about the safety, effectiveness, benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. Older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes, are at from COVID-19.

I’ve heard that some vaccines require a second shot.

The initial COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. If you get one of these vaccines, you’ll need a follow-up dose a few weeks later to be effectively immunized. “What you have is you get some degree, not optimal, but some degree of immunity a couple of weeks after the first dose,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in December. “That’s not optimal. After the second dose, you get optimal immunity anywhere from seven to 10 days after the second dose.”

You may receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you where, when and which type of vaccine you received, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tennessee’s interim distribution plan says you’ll be reminded to come back for a second shot after you get your first. Reminders could come via text message or phone calls.

The CDC has launched a web tool called v-safe that lets you sign up for text message reminders for your second vaccine appointment and report possible side effects.

How will nursing home and other long-term care residents get the vaccine? 

Vaccine rollout has already begun for long-term care residents in Tennessee. The federal government has contracted with CVS and Walgreens to administer the COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to long-term care residents and staff. The two national drugstore chains say that more than 48,000 of the 50,000 skilled nursing and assisted living communities in the U.S. are participating in the program.

Do I have to pay for the vaccination? 

AARP fought to make sure the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. But the CDC says vaccine providers may still charge a fee for giving someone a shot. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said the vaccine will be administered free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries, with no copays. Some health insurance companies have also announced that there won’t be out-of-pocket costs for policyholders.

There are already reports of scammers purporting to offer COVID vaccines and treatments and trying to charge for them. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is tracking the latest scams.

How long does immunity last after I get vaccinated? 

It’s not yet known how long immunity from a coronavirus vaccine lasts and whether it needs to be administered on a regular basis like the flu shot.

Should I still wear a mask after getting vaccinated? 

Yes. Experts still need to learn more about the protection the vaccines provide under “real-life conditions,” the CDC says. It could take your body a few weeks to build up immunity after the second dose of a vaccine. And while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not yet clear whether someone who’s been vaccinated can still catch the virus and transmit it to others.

The vaccine is just one tool that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC says it could take months for the population to build up immunity and continues to recommend preventive measures such as face masks and social distancing. 

AARP has also called for ongoing monitoring of vaccines, once they are authorized for public use, to identify any risks that weren't evident in the expedited development and review process.

gray divider line

This guide was originally published on Jan. 6 and updated on Jan. 19 with more information about vaccine eligibility.

Also of Interest:

About AARP Tennessee
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.