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Local providers, pharmacies helping increase vaccine access in rural areas

Roughly one in four Tennesseans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Increasing access is one way to help boost that number.

NEWPORT, Tenn. — How close you are to a COVID-19 vaccine location depends on where you live. With limited appointments and high demand, that could impact your access too.

"In our rural areas, we're struggling to actually find enough providers to place the vaccine," Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told reporters on March 22. "I think you'll see those coming online very soon."

According to Vaccinefinder.org, there are 16 different vaccination locations within five miles of 37814, the zip code belonging to Morristown City Hall.

In other parts of East Tennessee, however, the access points are fewer and farther between. Scott County Pharmacy is listed as one of just two vaccine options within five miles of Huntsville City Hall.

"The rollout was a little cumbersome early on. We began vaccinating on March 15, which is the first day that we actually started giving the vaccines in the arm," said Brent Dunlap, a pharmacist at Scott County Pharmacy. "We've done about 190 vaccines so far."

He said they coordinated with other independent pharmacies in Scott County to request doses through different partnerships. They've primarily been giving shots of the Moderna vaccine. Soon, however, they will start using the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot.

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

It's local providers like them and Rural Medical Services that are helping to fill in the gaps.

"What we're finding is that we're able to meet more and more of the demand," said Dr. Lawrence Mathers, a family physician with Rural Medical Services. "More and more that people who want vaccines are able to find them through one of these sources."

In Newport, Vaccinefinder.org shows 11 providers within five miles of city hall. The Tennessee Department of Health expects more locations to begin vaccinations in the coming weeks as supply increases.

For now, doctors and pharmacists are helping build trust around vaccines.

"As I share about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccines, I find that more and more people, maybe who were hesitant at the beginning, are willing to take it," Dr. Mathers said.