Inside Nashville’s pop-up vaccination efforts; what’s worked and what has failed
Esmeralda Baravar, 18, winces as she gets her COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up clinic at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in South Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)
At a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic outside of Von Elrod’s Beer Hall & Kitchen on June 12, Metro Health Department workers found themselves hurrying to pack up their supplies as hecklers formed a half-circle around them.
Metro Health strike team coordinator Emily Gibson recalled a group of about 10 people surrounding them while shouting insults and threats, including one man yelling out, “Who’s ready to cause some trouble.”
Although the workers ultimately left without further incident, the Von Elrod’s pop-up vaccine event was a bust for another reason: only four people received a vaccination against COVID-19 virus, which has infected at least 99,527 Nashvillians and killed 930.
At the other end of the spectrum, pop-up vaccination clinics have been especially effective in south Nashville, leading to 409 shots at Plaza Mariachi on April 30.
At some point on Thursday or Friday of this week, Metro will surpass 20,000 vaccinations disseminated through its mobile or pop-up vaccination clinics. From hockey games to churches to schools, the city’s vaccination effort shifted several weeks ago away from stationary mass vaccination centers at Nissan Stadium and Music City Center to a neighborhood-focused approach hoping to find people where they are.
The effort is still a work in progress, as the varying results at Von Elrod’s and Plaza Mariachi show.
The Tennessee Lookout examined six months worth of mobile vaccination data showing which pop-up locations led to people being vaccinated and which ones did not. At stake is the city’s effort to vaccinate as many residents as possible. Through June 16, 43.9 percent of Davidson County residents were fully vaccinated.
Leslie Waller, a Metro epidemiologist in the area communicable disease and emergency preparedness, and one of the city’s strategists for pop-up vaccination efforts, said the problem with Music City Center was many people could not access the downtown facility.
“The vaccine events at the community-based sites were meant to be much more accessible,” Waller said. “They were in neighborhoods at places where people go everyday, churches, community centers, entertainment venues, places where people gather. Our goal was to meet people where they are.”
The early phases of Nashville’s mobile vaccination strategy focused on residential healthcare facilities, such as organizations serving people with intellectual disabilities and nursing homes. Metro gave out over 5,000 doses of the vaccine in January and February, according to health department data.
After that initial wave, Waller said the focus shifted to disadvantaged populations. That meant vaccination events at churches, community centers, civic organizations and schools.
Some of the pop-up events leading to the most vaccinations were at churches and community organizations serving Spanish-speaking residents and immigrants. There were 315 doses given out at the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church on April 7. A May 14 event at Casa Azafran, the Nolensville Road event space and nonprofit collective providing services to immigrants, 200 people were vaccinated, according to the health department data.
“I think the immigrant community, numbers wise, has for sure been where our most successful events were held,” said Gibson, who often serves as the point person at the pop-up events.
Vaccinations at places of worship have also been successful. Spanning the religious spectrum, from Baptist churches to the Islamic Center, Waller said when hesitant people see their church endorsing the vaccine, or even their church leader getting vaccinated, it makes a difference.
“I think the best example (of winning people over) from a trust aspect was in religious institutions,” Waller said. “The simple virtue of being there and having the clergy members encourage the vaccine and get it themselves, that alone was enough to change a lot of people’s minds, or address the hesitancy that might be there.”
Not all the pop-up clinics have been a smashing success. Despite tremendous media fanfare, just 35 total people received either a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine or a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a clinic set up in conjunction with a Predators playoff game. Setting up prior to a recent concert at the Exit/In rock club yielded zero vaccinations.
Gibson, who was at an Exit/In event this week that led to three shots, said many passers-by said they appreciated the pop-up clinic, but were already vaccinated.
Other efforts to reach people in a social setting have worked. An event at the Nashville Zoo on May 23 yielded 208 shots.
“Honestly, we are still looking at the data and learning,” Waller said.
Gibson said the success of vaccination efforts at Spanish language churches and community centers has led her to believe the city could be doing even more to distribute vaccines in those areas. She said equitability and reaching disadvantaged populations will continue to be a primary focus of the pop-up vaccine strategy.
But, there is also an increasing effort to reach individuals who are skeptical of the vaccine. These tend to be mostly younger, more affluent people, whose reasons for hesitancy vary, Gibson said. According to the June 16 data, 76.75 percent of Davidson County residents over the age of 75 were fully vaccinated. By comparison, 45.71 percent for those ages 25 through 34.
“I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens to their friends or family members who’ve gotten vaccinated,” Gibson said. “There’s still a lot of hesitancy on the vaccine and how fast it was developed and what the long term effects might be.”
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