TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) Health leaders continue to say getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best route to return to normalcy, but the lack of local demand has them coming up with new strategies to approach the community with the shot.
“We’ve got to take it to them, take it to them in a way that they trust,” said Ballad Health VP of health programs, Paula Masters.
Ballad is hitting the road, with three new COVID-19 mobile vaccination vans ready to offer all three vaccines at pop-up clinics across Northeast Tennessee.
“Our goal is to have as many counties and communities reached after the end of this,” said Masters.
The focus is on vaccinating those they say have been underrepresented, like people of color and far-reaching rural areas.
“That is the next part in how we get in front of and handle this pandemic,” said Masters.
The push is driven by a larger campaign called “Take a shot on life.” It is a collaborative effort between Ballad, Region AHEAD, the First Tennessee Development District and ETSU Health.
The vans were funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee Foundation.
“When you take that shot, it gives you your life back. It gives you the health you need, the opportunity to say, I can in confidence get out and go somewhere,” said Lottie Ryans with the First Tennessee Development District.
This is the new vaccine reality, not just for Ballad Health, as local demand tapers off. Health leaders are moving away from large, mass distribution events and focusing on a more targeted approach to make it easier than ever to get the shot.
“You have to pivot. We have to go and get those folks that may be hesitant, that may have access issues,” said Masters.
The initiative will partner closely with community groups, churches and various organizations to host the van and provide a mobile clinic. Masters says this approach helps break down lingering reservations and misunderstandings about getting the shot.
“We are having it seen in their area, where it hasn’t been seen, which helps to break down that barrier of hesitancy,” said Masters.
They also hope to prioritize locations, and time options, that will work for everyone.
“We want to provide access, we want to provide a trustworthy partnership so people feel very comfortable so they can step in and get that vaccine and move on,” said Ryans.
The vans are ready for rollout, online scheduling for an appointment is open.
The first events are scheduled for May 15th-17th, with one van in Johnson City at Friendship Baptist Church and one in Kingsport at Greater Life Church.
Appointments are encouraged, not required.