Gov. Bill Lee Photo by AP

By Rosetta Miller Perry

Black legislators are asking the same question the Tribune raised earlier: how did Meharry, a medical school very much involved in the fight against COVID-19 and providing frontline workers to battle it, somehow get overlooked by state health officials when it came time to distribute the vaccine to fight the disease?

It’s even more galling because Meharry has been a partner with the city in administrating COVID-19 testing at various local sites, and has been nationally recognized as one of the nation’s HBCUs most involved in COVID-19 research and testing from the earliest days of the outbreak to the present. Still, somehow, Meharry was omitted from the governor’s vaccine distribution list.

Rep. G.A Hardway, chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of Legislators, was highly critical of the action in a public statement. “It is inexcusable that Meharry’s frontline workers, who are interacting with COVID-19 positive people every day, were not considered a top priority in Gov. Bill Lee’s vaccine distribution plan,”  Rep. Hardaway said.  “It is bad enough that a medical college on the front lines fighting the pandemic was overlooked in the vaccine distribution process. Add in the fact that this institution is an HBCU and it’s no wonder why Black Tennesseans all too often feel ignored and left behind by our state government.

“Equity and fairness never happen by accident. Whether you’re black, white or brown, we have to be intentional and committed to justice every step of

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry Medical College President/CEO

the way,” Hardaway added. This follows an admission from Meharry Medical College President Dr. James Hildreth Tuesday that while the school did get COVID-19 vaccines for its frontline workers, it was through the private Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) rather than the state government.

“Thanks to my colleagues at HCA for helping me get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for Meharry front line healthcare providers,” Hildreth said. “Somehow Meharry did not make the list. I am so proud of Meharrians who have done their part in the fight against COVID-19.” Rep. Hardaway added the treatment of Dr. Hildreth is another slight from the state. 

“Dr. Hildreth should have been consulted from the start of the pandemic. He is a world-renowned immunologist. Gov. Bill Lee should be engaging him and utilizing his talents to help get our state through this pandemic,” Hardaway said. Other legislators see this as another indication of how little respect and attention the Lee administration is paying the Black community. 

“I am both sad and disappointed that Meharry and General Hospital were not included in the first batch of vaccine. Again, whether known or not, it is

State Senator Brenda Gilmore

politics and systemic racism,” Sen. Brenda Gilmore said.  “Dr. James Hildreth is nationally known and played a prominent role in the approval of the vaccine. How could Meharry have been overlooked? He is one of the smartest immunologists out there and he knows the science. This is also sad because Nashville General Hospital at Meharry serves some of our most marginalized people, who are likely the sickest patients. This puts their hospital and testing staff at far greater risk. They should have been some of the first to receive the vaccine.”

Meharry’s omission remains glaring with the revelation from state health statistics that people of color are being disproportinately affected by the pandemic across the state.  “As a prime example of people of color being systematically disenfranchised, the ‘oversight’ of Meharry receiving COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable,” said Rep. Sam McKenzie. “Those whom are most severely impacted continue to be left off the list of first benefits. We must ensure that the actions match the rhetoric and, in this case, the system failed our people.”

Tennessee doesn’t need a Trump clone during this pandemic so I plan to revert to my civil rights days and start attending the Governor’s church on Sundays.  Perhaps we can have a little chat by the altar side.