Across Tennessee, health officials boost outreach efforts for kids’ vaccines

By: - November 29, 2021 5:00 am
Kat Gower, 8, gets her second shot as her mother Allison watches.(Photo: John Partipilo)

Kat Gower, 8, gets her second shot as her mother Allison watches.(Photo: John Partipilo)

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 on Oct. 29, Tennessee’s local health departments have had varying degrees of success convincing parents to vaccinate their children among waves of misinformation and pediatric COVID cases.

Two week ago, reports showed that half of Tennessee’s counties had fewer than two dozen vaccinations among young children. Three East Tennessee counties reported no vaccinations among children 5-9.

Since then, county health departments have increased their outreach efforts to vaccinate children, including working with public school systems and targeting areas with low vaccination rates. 

In Shelby County, health officials continue to report high numbers of COVID cases, especially among children. Children between the ages of 0-17 account for 32% of all active COVID cases at an average of 192 per week, according to the Shelby County Health Department. There are currently 344 active pediatric cases, and four children have died of COVID-related causes. 

Health officials have almost doubled vaccinations among children from 4.8% to 8.5%. During a Memphis City Council meeting on Nov. 16, Shelby County health director reported that 4.2% of children were vaccinated in a week and a half and continued at a steady pace. 

Shelby County health officials partnered with Shelby County Public Schools and opened 1,000 time slots for vaccinations, which filled within a day and a half.

Other major county health departments throughout the state are also reporting varied degrees of success, as follows:

Nashville/Davidson County

As of Friday, health officials estimate that 15% of children between the ages 5-11 have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. For children between the ages of 5-19, 36.6% have received at least one dose, according to Brian Todd, spokesperson for the Metro Nashville Public Health department.

Some communities will not have as great access to vaccines as others, and that is why (Metro Nashville Health) has proactively scheduled vaccine events for children and people of all ages at times and locations that are outside normal work hours . . . and at trusted and familiar locations.

– Brian Todd, Metro Nashville Public Health Department

In order to increase vaccinations, the department is working closely with Metro Nashville Public Schools to increase vaccinations. This includes offering after-hour vaccine clinics at high schools throughout the county.

Officials are also continuing to target low-vaccination zip codes with pop up clinics, including working with community partners including Caza Azafran, Plaza Mariachi, Nashville-area churches and the Islamic Center, along with other religious-based sites serving immigrant populations. 

“Certainly some communities will not have as great of access to vaccines as others, and that is why MPHD has proactively scheduled vaccine events for children and people of all ages at times and locations that are outside normal work hours and located at neighborhood sites and other trusted and familiar locations,” said Todd.

Health officials are targeting misinformation and vaccine hesitancy through messaging campaigns and hosting in person presentations. 

Despite this, parents are not as eager to get their children vaccinated as they were to get themselves vaccinated.

“We have seen the vaccination rates by age group gradually decrease by age, so this trend isn’t surprising although it is concerning,” said Todd. “We have been making numerous efforts to increase vaccine coverage among younger people of all races, ethnicities and cultural groups to a point that more closely matches that of people 65 years and older since the Spring.” 

For families planning to meet for the holidays, health officials ask everyone to get vaccinated and receive boosters if eligible. If not, consider getting a rapid COVID test to cut down on transmission rates during the holidays, “especially when transmission is still at a relatively high level despite it being lower than the peak of the summer Delta surge,” said Todd.  

Knoxville/Knox County

In Knox County, children aged  0-10 currently account for 8% of all COVID-19 cases and children aged 11-20 account for 16.6%, according to the Knox County Health Department. Despite this, Knox County health officials report that 1.5% of children aged 5-11 are vaccinated.  Children aged 12-15 account for 3.6% of vaccinations and 5.5% of children aged 16-20 are vaccinated.  

Vaccines for children are offered at all their clinic locations, but parents are more likely to consult their personal doctors about getting their kids vaccinated.

“We understand this desire from parents and is why we are working with pediatricians’ offices in our area in a facilitator role to ensure that they have what they need,” said Kelsey Wilson, spokesperson for the Knox County Health Department. 

Misinformation continues to be an obstacle affecting vaccination rates, so health officials continue to send their vaccination team, including a minority outreach division, to areas with lower vaccination rates and to partner with community businesses, churches, nonprofits and other organizations.

Knox County is running radio campaigns in Spanish and other languages to provide education on COVID-19. 

Chattanooga/Hamilton County

According to the Hamilton County Health Department, children aged 0-10 account for 8% of all COVID-19 cases, and children aged 11-20 account for 14% of all cases. 

As for vaccinations, 11% of children aged 5-11 are vaccinated and 46% of children aged 12-15 are vaccinated. 

“The Health Department has received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and support from parents and guardians coming in to get their children vaccinated. In fact we are planning another Saturday event due to the positive feedback received,” said Holden Young, spokesperson for the Hamilton County Health Department.

Current efforts to increase vaccinations include providing information in multiple languages, along with bilingual staff and interpreters. Health officials partnered with La Super Carniceria Loa to host monthly pop-up vaccination events. They also host vaccination and testing events in Spanish-speaking churches. 

“In addition, we have hosted numerous COVID-19 vaccination and testing events in predominately African-American churches across the County, including a COVID-19 vaccination event at the 7th Day Adventist Church Dodds Avenue, Westside Missionary Baptist Church and the more recent “Fight Flu TN” event held at Orchard Knob Baptist Church,” said Young. 

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.