NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee’s COVID vaccination rates are well below the national average. Many people are vocal about their mistrust of the vaccine.

Dr. James Hildreth, the President of Meharry Medical College, who’s credited with groundbreaking work around AIDS and HIV, speaks honestly about his frustrations at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Listening to some of the things that I listen to, because I want to be informed about what people are saying, I get highly offended by someone who has not spent a fraction of the time that I’ve spent studying the immune system and viruses postulating about things that they have no business talking about.”

He’s still in disbelief the hope he had for herd immunity is no longer alive.

“I really thought when we got the vaccine produced and demonstrated them to be safe and effective – not one but three of them – that we would be having a very different conversation.”

Instead, he feels his efforts to educate have fallen on deaf ears.

“I see my role as a scientist, who has been studying viruses for over 40 plus years, to try to help people understand why we’re being asked to do the things we’re being asked to do. It’s based on solid findings that’s been based on decades of research.”

Dr. Hildreth continues, “No one just woke up one day and said please wear a mask. We know that they work. We know that the vaccines work. We know exactly how they work.”

Some still question his assurance the vaccine is safe and effective.

“That’s been one of my disappointments, not being able to demonstrate adequately to people that yes, they happened quickly but they happened in a rigorous way.”

Dr. Hildreth admits he didn’t expect the pushback he’s experienced.

“We take science for granted every single day. We take pills that are prescribed for us. These are poisons that have been calibrated to do good and not harm.”

He adds, “We fly on airplanes. These aluminum tubes are seven miles in the air trusting they won’t fall out of the air. That’s science that made that possible.”

“Every time you go to the grocery store to buy food… the science has made it possible to make the foods as safe as they are.”

He asks, “Why can’t we take science and trust it in this instance?”

Maybe, it’s because cutting through all the noise is nearly impossible, Dr. Hildreth says.

“It’s hard to get the attention of people when their are so many outlets, social media, the talking heads,” he says, “If people only knew (laughs) how much research unpinned the vaccines again that goes back decades, then I think maybe there’d be a better appreciation and willingness to say ‘okay, I can do this’. But, it’s hard to convey that in a short interview.”

So, News 2 gives him time to explain further.

“The vaccines were made in record time, but that’s because of all the discoveries that have been made dating back to 1961 when MRNAs were discovered.”

“Technology allowed us to achieve this, but also those decades of research by scientists who did not know that their discoveries would one day help save the world.”

“No one’s going to be a guinea pig at this point. Talk about some data – 150 or more million Americans have now had shots in their arms. So, you wanted data. There it is.”

His hope here on out is for people to seek answers from accurate sources and have civil conversations.

“If we all just make the decision to do our best to fight this virus not each other.”

Currently, fewer than half of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. News 2 takes you inside the debate with ‘Moving the Needlespecial reports. Keep up with our continuing coverage on