By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — As they set up for their weekly vaccine clinic, this one in partnership with community partner Foster Chapel, their minds were already on the next big project, vaccinating the young 12 years of age and up. This mission has become every bit as important as the first.
In the beginning the elderly were at greatest risk and the Faith Leaders Initiative worked diligently to get them vaccinated. Now, as mask mandates have been lifted across the city and county of Knoxville, as schools move towards no masking
requirements in the upcoming school year, and as sports crowds return to previous and projected higher than ever in person attendance, the youth are the red flag the initiative sees waving in the future. The mission has a few barriers to overcome.
Annabel Henley, who works with the Knox County Health department feels there must be an urgency to get the children vaccinated. “They need a mental health normal.” Henley said. She spoke of the need to overcome the fear of being around others that the time away from being in the presence of other human beings that the pandemic has created. There is also safety in the school as child abuse numbers have risen without the watchful caring eyes of teachers and other caring adults. Henley described how these and other levels of anxiety would drop as children who have their shots can go out without mask to events and finally be around other kids with no fear of getting the disease or infecting any one in their homes.
“Isolation has been a very big factor.” said Dr. Carla Gillespie, one of the physicians who has also been overseeing the vaccine clinics being held held around the city. “People have been away from the presence of each other for far too long and we have to find ways to make them feel comfortable in the presence of each other in whatever ways we can.” Gillespie gave an example of the churches that are reopening and the ongoing effort in finding ways to draw people back who may served in different areas such as ushers before COVID -19 but are
uncomfortable touching or shaking hands and the need to find ways to get them back in person without raising their stress levels. Getting kids vaccinated to safely go back into the school room will take the same kind of strategic planning.
One avenue of acceptance is getting the parents to allow their children to get the vaccine. Nurse Practitioner Brittonya Sparks spoke of her experiences with families, saying those parents who have been vaccinated and are aware of the facts of what the vaccinations will and will not do, have been more apt to bring their children to be vaccinated. Cynthia Finch believes it is the knowledge piece that must drive this next round of vaccine clinics.
Education Day is the way. The Faith Leaders Initiative in partnership with the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA at 124 E. Cruze St. will hold an information event in front of the facility on June 30th, targeting youth and their parents. The VAC IMPACT approach will remove myths and present facts. The event will follow the research which has shown the most successful vaccine clinics are those which involve activities and incentives for the youth. The first shots will be given July 7th with the second dose on July 28th.
Doctors in their white coats, representatives from pharmacies, nursing schools, and other medical professionals in their uniforms will be present as there will also be a push for the inner city youths to learn about careers in the health field which is facing a critical shortage in the future. The children who participate will also receive prizes, and gift cards.
The timing of these events will ensure the children have had both vaccines and are at 100% efficacy as Knox County schools start back two weeks later on August 9th.