NASHVILLE, TN– More than a year after the twin crises of severe storms and the COVID-19 pandemic, many Tennesseans just want a sense of normalcy and safety.

Dr. Michele Williams holds up a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a photo just before she draws it into the needle.

Lives have been lost and others upended. Nearly 555,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus at the time of this publication, with about 12,000 of those being  fellow Tennesseans, according to the state’s health department.

To mitigate those numbers Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center partnered with ConnectUs Healthcare, Metro Public Health Department, Metro Parks, YMCA, Lee Chapel AME, Lipscomb University, Meharry Medical College and Piedmont Natural Gas  and other organizations to provide the one-shot Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at a drive running until April 9.

“Any vaccine is better than no vaccine,” said MWCHC CEO Katina Beard. “It brings a bit of a comfort for people to be able to be this close to home and get their vaccine,” she added.

North Nashville partners have put in the work on this effort together, Beard said, noting Senator Brenda Gilmore and Representative Harold Love, along with Mayor John Cooper’s office and multiple faith-based organizations, were involved in coordinating resources.

The drive is taking place at Hadley Park Community Center on Tennessee State University’s campus daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vaccinations are available to anyone age 18 and older and there is no requirement to be a Davidson County resident to get one.

ConnectUs Health practitioners Caroline Portis-Jenkins, left, and Suzanne Hurley pose for a brief moment between patient intakes.

While the number of cases and hospitalizations was on the decline recently in many areas, a slow vaccine rollout process and an uptick in mass gathering events along with loosened health and safety restrictions are causing concerns of yet another surge in cases.

Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky last week issued a desperate plea for Americans to continue quarantining and following the institute’s coronavirus guidelines until most of the population is vaccinated.

That makes vaccine drives a critical resource in creating barriers to the spread of the novel coronavirus and its variants, especially considering that the longer the virus spreads through the population the more it evolves, creating variants that may be more resistant to the vaccines available now.

“It’s been a busy, great day,” said ConnectUs practitioner Suzanne Hurley. “Lots of shots in arms, which is fantastic.”

“The best dose is what you can get in your arm,” said Caroline Portis-Jenkins, another practitioner with ConnectUs. It’s too soon to tell if Tennessee will see another surge, but Jenkins cautioned against folks letting their guard down. “It’s a race against the disease and its variants,” she remarked.

The one-shot vaccine is effective against hospitalization, severe illness and death– the “great equalizer” of the various vaccines, Jenkins said.

Those who attend the drive can be assured that health and safety protocols are diligently followed and the vaccination process is efficient. Coolers storing doses of the vaccine are constantly monitored for temperature and workers make sure that prepared doses do not get administered past their two-hour shelf life.

Directly behind Dr. Williams is a cooler containing doses of the vaccine. The temperature is constantly monitored via this specialized device. The CDC recommends this vaccine to be stored at temperatures between 2-8 degrees Celsius (36- 46 degrees Fahrenheit).

Thankfully, Dr. Williams noted doses at the drive were being given within 40 minutes. More than 250 doses were administered within two hours of intake, said Beard.

Patients will be monitored for 15 minutes prior to leaving the site to make sure no adverse effects occur. No patients reported any latent symptoms of the shot other than mild soreness on the arm and slight fatigue. Beard said those who plan to get the vaccine should make sure to eat beforehand  and are adequately hydrated to combat nausea, fatigue and other minor symptoms typically felt from any vaccination.

For many, the decision to get the vaccine presented the opportunity to live life again– seeing friends, family, and hopefully getting back to work.

Ben Kirsch, 31, said he’s not big on vaccines but urged any skeptics to get theirs. “If this gets me back to normal life, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “If I could tell anybody anything, it’d just be go get it so we can go back to normal. I’m really tired of the way things are going.”

For others it was a sense of civic duty akin to voting, although Amber Gold, 39, said she felt getting the vaccine was definitely easier. Though she was nervous about getting the vaccine, Gold said it wasn’t going to stop her from doing her social responsibility. “If I’m going to live and participate in the community then I should help keep it safe,” she remarked. “Even if you have a reaction, there’s no reaction worse than 500,000 deaths.”

MWCHC will be participating in another drive offering the Moderna vaccine April 10 at Physicians Plaza, 739 President Place in Smyrna. To register for that drive call 615-327-9400.

For information regarding the drive at Hadley Park, call 615-340-3863.