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COVID-19 trial participants who got placebo to get real vaccine

KINGSPORT — Bill and Judy Tindall of Hawkins County and others who got placebos in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial for a COVID-19 vaccine are getting the real vaccine as early as next week.

Tindall, a retired Eastman Chemical Co. chemist living near Surgoinsville, and his wife have appointments Monday afternoon to receive the Pfizer vaccine from the same batch used in the trial conducted through Holston Medical Group (HMG) in Kingsport and Bristol.


After an article about trial participants not knowing for sure if they got the placebo or when they might get the vaccination if they already hadn’t appeared in the Kingsport Times News on Wednesday, as well as letters to the editor from Tindall appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Times News, Tindall said the response was quick.

“Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, Pfizer started to follow the World Health Organization guidelines,” Tindall said Thursday. Tindall said other participants also have been or will be unblinded shortly. “It just hit the fan yesterday morning.”

He said the newspaper coverage got the attention of Pfizer, contacted Monday by the Times News, in addition to a teacher from Texas and a Yale University law professor and columnist from the New York Times.

The woman contacted him Thursday by phone after seeing the Wall Street Journal letter. He said the Texas teacher was in a trial by Moderna, which he said already had unblinded its participants as the priority groups to which they belonged became eligible for the vaccine.

The move means local participants will learn whether they got the real vaccine and will have the opportunity to get the vaccine if they didn’t already receive it. Half of the participants, about 500 in the Tri-Cities and some 5,000 across Tennessee, got the real deal with the other half getting sterile saline solution.


Tindall praised HMG employees for their work in the trial so far and said HMG acted as “conduit of information” to Pfizer

“The only reason I didn’t bail from the trial was the people I was working with at the (HMG) facility,” Tindall said. “I feel a loyaty to them to stay in the trial.”

In a Wednesday afternoon email, Tindall wrote that Tennessee officials told HMG that it had “no horse in the race” and that “unblinding was solely a Pfizer decision.

“We are a hostage to Pfizer’s policy until I have an option outside the trial,” he wrote in the Wednesday email. “ When I am eligible for vaccine outside the trial Pfizer will unblind me because otherwise they will lose me anyway. This fact can be worded in a way that sounds like the state is making the decision, when in fact it is not.”

He also said the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended unblinding “at-risk participants” “as soon as practical,” which he said “would be today given that the placebo group vaccine is at HMG.”


The trial is to continue two years total, giving researches a look at any long-term side effects or immune responses that might occur. However, all trial participants interviewed earlier this week said they supported the vaccine program and want to get the vaccine.

In addition, retired Eastman chemist and Tindall friend Ned Moore of Blountville said he wants the vaccine as soon as possible but as of Thursday afternoon hadn’t received details from Pfizer or HMG.

“At 80 years old, I guess I’m in the eligible age group,” Moore said by phone, adding that he is pretty sure he received the placebo. “If I hadn’t seen the nurse put it in, I would not have known I got the shot.”

“I signed up for the trials because I believe I am a perfect test case. I am 80 years old, have diabetes and am overweight. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that I received the placebo. I had no reaction at all to the shots,” Moore wrote via email earlier in the week.

Among other people, trial participants said they contacted state Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, U.S. Rep.-elect Diana Harshbarger, R-1st, and Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

“Life is a bunch of calculated risks,” Moore said Thursday. “At my age, it’s more of a risk not to take it than to take it.”

COVID-19 vaccines available for residents 75 and older
  • Updated

JOHNSON CITY — All seven rural county health departments in the Northeast Region will begin registering residents age 75 and above on Jan. 2, 2021, to receive COVID-19 vaccinations as supplies become available.

Meanwhile, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department will begin scheduling vaccination appointments next week.

Sullivan County

Beginning Monday, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department will begin accepting phone calls and scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments for individuals 75 years old and older and for people in the Tier 1a1 and Tier 1a2 groups, health department Director Gary Mayes said Thursday.

Mayes added that now is not the time for people to abandon safety procedures when it comes to COVID-19.

“The (recently extended) mask mandate is absolutely important, and it is absolutely imperative that citizens in Sullivan County wear masks and continue social distancing as COVID continues at a very high level in this region,” Mayes said.

The Sullivan County Regional Health Department can be reached at (423) 279-2777.

Northeast Region

Northeast Region county health departments will take calls between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 2, to register individuals aged 75 and up to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Those wishing to receive a COVID-19 vaccination should call their local health department to register. Callers will be asked to provide their name, date of birth and a phone number to be notified of the appointment date and time.

Contact information for health departments in the Northeast Region is as follows:

• Carter County Health Department: (423) 543-2521.

• Greene County Health Department: (423) 798-1749.

• Hancock County Health Department: (423) 733-2228.

• Hawkins County Health Department (Church Hill): (423) 357-5341.

• Hawkins County Health Department (Rogersville): (423) 272-7641.

• Johnson County Health Department: (423) 727-9731.

• Unicoi County Health Department: (423) 743-9103.

• Washington County Health Department: (423) 975-2200.

Some locations will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Jan. 2 for those who register that day. Vaccinations will also be offered on future dates as vaccine supplies allow.

Individuals aged 75 and older who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination should call their local health department between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to register to receive the vaccine.

It is important to note Tennessee counties may progress through COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times, depending on supply of COVID-19 vaccines and demand for them. To learn what phase your county is in, visit www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/CountyPhaseStatus.pdf.

TDH reminds all Tennesseans that in addition to vaccination, wearing a face mask, maintaining social distance and getting tested when exposed or sick are critical to controlling the pandemic.

The Tennessee Department of Health updated the Tennessee COVID-19 Vaccination Plan on Tuesday. COVID-19 vaccines remain limited at this time, and Tennessee’s allocation plan prioritizes those most at risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan is available online at https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/COVID-19_Vaccination_Plan.pdf. Find answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination at www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/COVID-19_Vaccine_FAQ.pdf.


On Monday, Jan. 4, COVID-19 testing will be offered between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. five days a week at no charge to those wishing to be tested at TDH locations in Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties.

TDH testing sites employ self-testing kits for adults Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and drive-thru testing on Tuesday and Thursday. These updated hours allow staff members to transition to COVID-19 vaccination priority populations.

Find testing hours and contact information for TDH health department testing sites online at https://covid19.tn.gov/testing-sites/.

COVID-19 in NET: Daily cases near 350

The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report for Thursday:


• 97 new deaths reported Thursday; 5,990 new cases reported.

• Pandemic totals are 6,907 deaths and 586,802 cases.

• 87% of case totals were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

• New deaths by age Thursday: 27 in the 81-plus group; 34 in the 71-80 group; 15 in the 61-70 group; 15 in the 51-60 group; six in the 41-50 group.

Northeast Tennessee

• Two new deaths and 348 new cases Thursday for the eight-county region.

New deaths by county: One in Sullivan County (178); one in Washington County (165).

No new deaths were reported in Hawkins County (total 56); Carter County (86); Greene County (92); Johnson County (28); Unicoi County (40); Hancock County (five).

New cases by county: 92 in Washington; 35 in Greene; 49 in Carter; 123 in Sullivan; 34 in Hawkins; nine in Unicoi; five in Johnson; and one in Hancock.

Active cases by county: 1,158 in Washington; 1,207 in Sullivan; 735 in Greene; 519 in Hawkins; 530 in Carter; 189 in Unicoi; 89 in Johnson; and 34 in Hancock.

Positive rates

Statewide: 22.64% of the 11,429 new test results reported Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Ballad Health: 28.8% over the past seven days, for the health system’s 21-county service area, including Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

COVID-19 in SWVA: Daily cases near 100

Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 cases spiked near 100, according to Thursday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 98 cases for totals of 4,882 and 122 deaths during the pandemic.

Wise County saw 40 cases for totals of 2,023 and 58 deaths. Lee County had 37 cases for 1,476 and 29 deaths.

Scott County had 15 cases for 1,214 and 34 deaths. Norton added six cases for 163 and one death.

The VDH reported 5,239 new cases and 48 deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 349,584 cases and 5,032 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Thursday’s VDH report was 5,096,024 of 8.63 million residents, or 59.05%. For nasal swab testing only, 4,255,991 people have been tested to date, or 49.32%. In the LENOWISCO district, 32,425 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 37.5%.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Thursday’s report rose from 24.3% to 26.6%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 12.7% to 13.2%.

Red Onion State Prison had 25 inmate cases and added a case for 22 active staff/contractor cases Thursday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap had one inmate case and added two cases for 14 active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case.

According to Thursday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as decreasing after a 16-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as increasing based on an overall 16-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. For seven-day case incidence, Wise County Schools were ranked higher-risk with Scott and Lee counties and Norton city schools lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

Hawkins 2020 Christmas tour winners include repeat champs and a centurial home

CHURCH HILL — Hawkins County’s two “official” Christmas decorating tours each announced their participant winners last week, with a Church Hill family successfully defending their 2019 New Canton Plantation title, and a 100-year-old Rogersville home earning the Heritage Association’s award.

Last year, Hunter and Amanda Jackson, who own New Canton Plantation in Church Hill, opened their historic home up to the public for a Christmas event that included caroling, children’s activities and treats.

The event raised more than $3,000 for the Of One Accord ministry.

A public event wasn’t possible this year due to the pandemic, but the Jacksons did bring back one aspect of last year’s program, the Christmas lights tour. For a $20 donation, families entered their home, which was judged partly with votes that cost $2 each.

With 11 entries this year, the Jacksons raised $320 for the ministry.

Defending last year’s title was the Dmitriev family — Bill and Lindsey and children Rylee and Paityn — at 356 Byington road, Rogersville, who received the $100 grand prize as well as a yard sign.

“going even bigger next year”

Bill Dmitriev said that with all the negativity in the world these days, he and his family were glad they could bring a smile to the faces of folks who enjoyed their display.

“I can remember growing up in the 70s and 80s and my folks driving around looking at Christmas lights and the joy it brought me,” Dmitriev told the Times News. “I always said I would do that one day. It has grown over the last 13 years to this, and we are going even bigger next year with a large sleigh so Santa can take photos with any children who want to – and a bunch more from lights with our light show and the three acres of Christmas display.”

The Rogersville Heritage Association also had big plans for Christmas this year, with an inaugural downtown Dickens-themed festival of caroling, food and costumed scrooge characters. Unfortunately that event and every Christmas parade in Hawkins County were canceled, along with the the annual Rogersville Christmas Tour of Historic Homes.

With the traditional indoor Christmas tour canceled, the RHA organized an outdoor Christmas decoration tour of homes, with a People’s Choice honor to be awarded to the home that received the most “likes” on the RHA’s Facebook page. A total of 10 homes entered.

RHA winner celebrated 100th birthday in 2020

With a total of combined 75 “like” and “loves” the RHA’s 2020 People’s Choice winner was the 100-year-old The Webb Home at 416 W. Main St. in downtown Rogersville.

Designed by the award-winning Barber and McMurray firm in Knoxville, the Webb Home was built in 1920 by Robert and Graham Kyle Rogan.

Placing second in the RHA tour with 71 total likes and loves was the Brooks Home, formerly known as the Armstrong House, at 119 W. Main St., which was originally built in 1881 by John Pierce.

On Tuesday, the Webbs contacted RHA Director Melissa Nelson and asked to to move the “Winners” sign from their yard to the Brooks Home this week because, “It was so beautifully decorated.”

Sullivan North’s Isaiah Pruitt (3) hits a close-in layup against Sullivan South during Thursday’s game in Kingsport. Pruitt finished with a game-high 18 points.