‘We fight the daily battle of misinformation’: leaders work to improve vaccine equity in Tennessee

Tennessee News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As vaccine options expand, health officials warn leaving certain minority communities unvaccinated could prolong the pandemic.

“The key to the vaccine being effective: it’s not the vaccine that’s gonna make this work, it’s the vaccinations,” said Lipscomb University Associate Provost of Health Sciences Dr. Quincy Byrdsong. “The key is access. The key is more places that will administer the vaccine and make sure those places are in multiple areas of the community.”

The Tennessee Health Department reported just under seven percent of people vaccinated in the state were Black, 71-percent were White, and 10 percent were unknown.

“The reason for the disparity is that the Black community is not getting vaccinated at the rate we would expect – 16 percent of the population, 7 percent of the vaccinations,” Dr. Byrdsong said. “It’s not that White people are getting vaccinated at a higher rate than we expect. It’s that the Black community is getting vaccinated at a rate lower than what we expect.”

Leaders in Metro Nashville launched an initiative to get more COVID-19 vaccinations to communities of color. Metro Public Health reported 18 percent of virus cases to happen among Black Nashvillians, but that group experienced about 31 percent of COVID deaths in the metro.

“We fight daily the battle of misinformation,” Dr. Kimberly Lamar told viewers of a virtual town hall hosted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville.

She serves as assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Office of Health Disparities Elimination and was one of the panelists for the town hall.

“This is so important tonight to make certain that we get the information necessary to help us navigate through this coronavirus pandemic and the vaccinations and getting clarity about that,” said Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III. “Let’s get this word out. Our community needs it.”

Dr. Lamar said churches have played a vital role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Making sure that as a beacon of light we’re here but we’re making sure that our people and our community and our family of churches really get the information that they need because right now more than ever before it’s critical that you did not just get the information but that you get the right information,” said Dr. Stephaine Walker.

Dr. Lamar said another factor impacting minorities and the elderly was not knowing how to actually sign up for a vaccine appointment. She said the health department relied on community partners to help with registrations as some people don’t have access to the right technology or the internet.

“We have partnered with hundreds of non-profits such as academic institutions across the state of Tennessee and really paying close attention to our metropolitan areas – Memphis, Shelby County, and Nashville and Davidson where we have the higher number of minorities in those communities,” Dr. Lamar said.

Dr. Byrdsong said it’s important to educate minority communities about the vaccine development process and the safety of vaccines.

MORE: Meharry Medical College encouraging minorities to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trial

“Part of that is the hesitancy of the Black community based on the historical situations that have occurred,” said Dr. Byrdsong.

He also added that access remained an issue and he feared some people got the vaccine not because of their phase, but because of who they knew.

“I talk to people all the time – they say ‘yeah, Quincy I just got the vaccine’ and I’m like ‘really, how? You’re a 45-year-old, you’re not a healthcare worker, you don’t live in a nursing home, how’d you get the vaccine’ and then you hear the thing about well ‘I have a doctor friend who had good supply or I’m good friends with the CEO of x-y-z company and they made the vaccine available to the entire company,'” said Dr. Byrdsong. “The other part of its it appears to be connected to access. That is partially a race issue. It’s also a socio-economic issue. It’s an employment status issue. What probably is my biggest fear is that COVID 19 becomes a vaccine that’s associated with your socio-economic status.”

From availability to current phases, find vaccine information for every Tennessee county using News 2’s Vaccine Tracker map.

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