KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A third of Knox County's population has gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine, a promising sign as the U.S. population continues to try to achieve herd immunity from the killer virus.
"We still have a ways to go, but I'm very pleased with the progress we've made so far," said Dr. Martha Buchanan, the county's chief medical officer and director of the Knox County Health Department.
About 237,000 shots have been given out by various groups including the Health Department so far. Children including some teens are not yet eligible to get the shot.
KCHD has a sign-up system available online through its website. Many grocery chains and area health care providers are also offering the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Moderna and Pfizer require two shots; Johnson & Johnson is a single shot.
The state also has a vaccine finder webpage.
Now that the county health board is strictly advisory, following action by Knox County Commission, Buchanan directs policy on how Knox County is responding to COVID-19.
Buchanan said Thursday she will keep an existing mask mandate in place.
She said she would also keep current restrictions in place for restaurants at least until April 22. The advisory health board meets April 21, she said, and she wants to hear their thoughts about restrictions going forward.
Buchanan said she appreciates the board remaining in existence so she can bounce ideas and concerns off them.
The doctor said she legally will have to issue her own health orders, including ones that now exist that she wants to keep in place.
Buchanan acknowledged there's some "vaccine hesitancy" in the community, including among immigrant and minority populations. Still, she urged everyone to get the COVID shot, and said the county has social media resources to educate the public about the benefits of getting a vaccine.
KCHD lately has been focusing on finishing off second-dose appointments but expects to begin opening more first-dose appointments in about 2 1/2 weeks. The county, however, isn't the only source for getting a vaccine. There are multiple options as well outside Knox County for those who are eligible age 16 and older.
As of Thursday, there were 876 active virus cases and 35 Knox Countians in the hospital with virus complications.
Deaths stand at 618.