KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The COVID-19 vaccine—potentially life-saving liquid gold—can be as hard to find as buried treasure.
In Knox County, the health department decides where most doses should go. It is keeping some for the people on its new waitlist while sending other boxes of shots to hospitals and private clinics.
But the Knox County Health Department refused to say to which providers it sends doses to, even after repeated questions from 10News.
"In an effort to protect their phone systems and their websites, we have learned from experience. We’ll let them announce the way they want to announce how they will be vaccinating people," Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said.
Some providers, like UT Medical Center, have made limited appointments available online.
Tennova and Covenant hospitals claimed they have public appointments too. As of February 16, Tennova tells 10News it is working on a way for the public to sign up. After days of questions, Covenant just shared a website. On Wednesday, it said appointments were full.
Both Tennova and Covenant also said they are contacting their own patients for some of the shots, but on a late-January call with reporters, the Tennessee Commissioner of Health said she told them not to do that.
"We want you to vaccinate everybody. Not just your patients. We want you to be a community site," Dr. Lisa Piercey said she told hospitals.
10News has also learned KCHD sends its own doses to some local clinics. Summit Medical Group has been distributed roughly 1,000 shots by appointment every week. Its CEO said it only opens appointment slots to its elderly patients, which he said KCHD approved.
In a recent media briefing, the health department also declined to say how many vaccine doses it sent to partners like Summit.
10News has filed records requests with the department to obtain some of that information.