Memphis Prioritizes Community Demographics of African Americans, People of Color for COVID-19 Vaccination Sites


Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland assured his residents in a weekly update that they are prioritizing equity for minorities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts. Strickland noted that their goal is to increase African American and people of color vaccinations from 20 percent to 30 percent of the total population.

A supplementary press release explained a map of their five vaccination sites. According to city officials, they coordinated the sites around matching the demographics of Shelby County at large. Some of the areas outside each site’s five mile radius include: Arlington, Lakeland, a majority of Millington, and the rural outliers of the county. The demographic makeup of these areas is overwhelmingly White.

“To align with our equity goals, we calculated the demographics of people living within half-mile, one mile, three miles[,] and five miles of each site,” read the press release. “For the five sites across Shelby County, we find that the aggregate population living within three and five miles of the sites mirrors precisely the demographics of Shelby County, with 53 percent [African American], 40 percent White, and 7 percent Latinx/Other races.”

The press release noted that these five sites aren’t the only sites administering the vaccines – they’re just the only sites mapped by the city. They noted that over 100 agencies and organizations in the county are administering the vaccine as well.

The city of Memphis took over vaccine distribution efforts on February 23, following a state investigation into over 1,300 wasted vaccines under Shelby County Health Department (SCHD). Although SCHD claimed that it was due to the winter storm occurring at the time, state officials discovered that SCHD had underreported the number of wasted vaccines. Around 2,400 vaccines reportedly expired under SCHD management.

Additionally, Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) investigators couldn’t obtain proper records or a chain of command overseeing the vaccinations. All they received was a handwritten, “chicken scratch” log of expired doses. This prompted further investigation, which revealed that the wasted vaccines may have been stolen, SCHD had an excess inventory of over 30,000 doses, and two children were likely vaccinated inappropriately.

In the wake of this discovery, SCHD Director Alisa Haushalter resigned. She will remain in office until March 15.

Back at the end of January, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) claimed that Shelby County was experiencing a disproportionate shortage of COVID-19 vaccines. Cohen went so far as to accuse Governor Bill Lee of not ensuring fair allocation of vaccines, which Lee retorted was incorrect.

According to a city press release, Memphis has vaccinated over 70,000 individuals. The city promised to establish up to three temporary vaccination clinics, based on locations where vaccination rates are below average.

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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].






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