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Community leaders bring COVID-19 vaccines to increase access in Knoxville

Tennessee lags behind most of the nation in terms of COVID-19 vaccinations. A group of community organizers is hoping to change that.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In Tennessee, roughly one in three people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the data from the state health department.

That's almost halfway to the number some experts estimate is necessary to reach herd immunity. However, it's below the vaccination rates of most other states in the U.S.

That's something Dr. Cynthia J. Finch of the New Directions Healthcare Solutions group wants to change.

"The vaccine is working," she said. "We're trying to move the needle from no to maybe to yes." 

A recent New York Times survey asked people about their likelihood to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It revealed that 13 percent of those surveyed in Tennessee are concerned about the financial and time cost of getting vaccinated.

Dr. Finch knows access is a barrier for some Tennesseans. That's where the group is stepping in to help.

"We're boots on the ground. We're going into neighborhoods, we're going to churches, we're coming to parks, we're going to places under the tree, we're going to apartment complexes, anywhere they'll allow us to come," she said. "It's going to take us as volunteers, as concerned citizens to go where the people are."

Credit: WBIR

On Sunday, her team showed up at Chilhowee Park during a citywide revival and prayer service. That's where Isaac Lovings got his shot.

"My wife made me take the COVID shot," he said with a laugh. "To be honest, I wouldn't have went and tried to find it anywhere else."

The convenience of Sunday's clinic helped him and others get vaccinated.

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They're also offering incentives for those who get vaccinated. Anyone who received a shot, information or resources was handed a paper "buck" to exchange for prizes and enter a bicycle raffle.

"[Vaccine bucks] have educational information on them, but they also are a different incentivize way to get people to come," she said. "It's important to just take care of yourself and your loved ones."