Lee says he will get virus vaccination when 'time is right'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday that he intends to get a coronavirus vaccination when "the time is right,” expressing confidence in the vaccine's ability to safely combat the virus that has killed more than 4,700 Tennessee residents.

Lee told The Associated Press that he was willing to have the vaccination after he took part in a roundtable discussion with Vice President Mike Pence, FedEx Corp. Chairman and CEO Fred Smith, U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and others inside a hangar at the Air National Guard 164th Airlift Wing in Memphis.

FedEx, the Memphis-based shipping giant, will help distribute Pfizer and Moderna vaccines around the country once they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. FedEx already has been delivering face masks and other personal protective equipment during the pandemic, which has sickened more than 13 million people in the United States and more than 388,000 Tennesseans.

Lee told the AP that he would get a coronavirus vaccination “when it's available to me and the time is right.”

“We feel confident that this is a safe and effective vaccine,” Lee told reporters during a media availability after the roundtable discussion. “We need people to feel confident.”

Lee said the first round of vaccines in Tennessee — about 150,000 doses over first two weeks of delivery to the state this month — would be given to health care workers, law enforcement officers and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, state health department commissioner, said the general population would likely be vaccinated in the spring or summer.

“Part of our distribution depends on how quickly we get resupplied after this first allocation,” said Piercey, who also attended the roundtable.

Officials say the state is expecting to receive about 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and about 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine in its first anticipated allocation in mid-December.

Pence said he came to Tennessee to discuss details of FedEx's vaccine distribution, though not many hard details about the rollout were offered. Pence praised FedEx for its work delivering pandemic-related supplies and its cooperation in developing a plan to distribute the vaccines.

“Help is on the way,” Pence said.

Neither Pence nor Lee wore face masks while seated at the round table. Panel members did appear to be sitting 6 feet apart from participants next to them. Both Lee and Pence wore masks while standing and greeting others, and Pence donned his mask while exiting Air Force Two.

During the roundtable, Redfield noted some Americans are hesitant to get a coronavirus vaccination, and he asked those on the panel to help “create a culture in this nation that’s grounded in vaccine confidence.”

"It’s really sad as an infectious disease physician to see many people choose to leave vaccination on the shelf for themselves, their family and the community,” Redfield said.

In early September, Lee stopped short of definitively saying whether he would be vaccinated when one became available. He previously has said a decision to vaccinate is a personal choice.

“This vaccine will be their choice, but we want Tennesseans to choose to get vaccinated when it becomes available to them because of the impact that it'll have, ultimately, on the spread of COVID-19,” Lee said Thursday.

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 878 new cases per 100,000 people in Tennessee over the past two weeks, which ranks 24th in the country for new cases per capita, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. The state has seen at least 4,781 COVID-19 deaths to date, including a record daily increase of 93 deaths reported Thursday.


Kimberlee Kruesi contributed from Nashville, Tennessee.


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.