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"It's about access" | Faith leaders help vaccinate more than 880 people in East Knoxville

On Saturday, community organizers hosted a clinic that allowed people to walk up, drive up or get a ride to receive their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With music pumping and spirits high, hundreds of people received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday. The clinic was held in East Knoxville, just outside the John T. O'Connor Senior Center.

"We have been intentional in reaching out to the African American community and people of color," Dr. Cynthia J. Finch said. "All the conversation that's going on about hesitancy, it's not really hesitancy. It's about access."

Dr. Finch, a co-founder of the Faith Leaders Initiative in Knoxville, helped organize the event with access in mind. People were able to walk up, drive up or even get a ride from CAC. 

"That access is what causes success — when we create intentional access, then we can get people vaccinated," Dr. Finch said. "It creates hope. It makes you realize that there is an end at some point."

Community organizations and houses of worship helped sign people up for the vaccination clinic. That, in itself, helped build trust in the community.

Credit: Vivian Shipe
For anyone unable to walk or drive to Saturday's clinic, CAC provided transporation.

RELATED: LIST: Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine in East Tennessee

"People look at their pastors, look at the churches, their church families as ways of supporting their community," said Tiki Dixon, a pastor at Oak Grove AME Zion Church. "Once those churches say 'yes, we'll do it,' that flows down through the community."

Plus, Dr. Finch said they were intentional about some of the volunteers they recruited. 

"We're building trust by going into the community and having people that are doing the needle in the arm that look like us," she said. "If we create trusted messengers across the city and across the state, then we can move the needle way on the other side of people getting their vaccinations."

Community leaders from across Knoxville volunteered for the clinic. Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie directed traffic as people came for their shots.

"These are the populations that are most devastatingly affected by COVID-19 nationally," McKenzie said. "We just want to make sure that we are bringing it to the community."

Nursing students from the University of Tennessee helped administer shots. Johnny Cole III said he enjoyed getting to give back to the community.

"I love seeing people's reactions, knowing that they're taking good steps for not just themselves, but the community as a whole," Cole said. "Some people are nervous about getting it but just talking them through the whole process and while you're giving the shot has been working pretty well."

Local faith leaders partnered with local pharmacies to get vaccines and host the clinic.

"The only way out of this pandemic is to receive the vaccine and to encourage others in your community to get the vaccine," said Kaci Foster, a pharmacist. "It's the closest way to get back to the new normal."

The vaccination clinic also offered COVID-19 testing and information packets for different community resources. In 28 days, they will host a similar event where Saturday's recipients can receive their second dose.