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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Room for improvement: All three Mid-South states trailing behind U.S. in COVID vaccinations

Local leaders say low confidence in the FDA emergency-use authorized drug is to blame.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a matter of months some of the best and brightest minds in the world came together for the greater good.

This controversial experimental COVID-19 vaccine is making history. 

But, public fear, skepticism and basic access are all hurdles to distribution.

Shelby County is no different.  

“In the middle of this pandemic, we really have been building a plane while we are flying it,” said Dr. Robin Womeodu. 

She is the Chief Nursing Officer at Methodist University Hospital.

Dr. Womeodu says that getting everyone on board to get their COVID-19 vaccine has been one of the biggest challenges in her career. 

But, she’s not giving up anytime soon. 

In order for people to trust the vaccine, they need to trust the results she says.  

“The outcomes of the vaccine that were so astonishing were no hospitalizations for serious disease and no deaths,” she said. 

She goes on to say, “When we really understood how powerful the vaccine was, it was really no question that we all had to  get it.”

While the mid-south medical community is overwhelmingly confident, much of the public isn’t, and the data proves it. 

All three Mid-South states are trailing behind when it comes to people "fully vaccinated."  Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas all sit among just six states below average at less than 21%.

Dr. Womeodu is counting on faith leaders to get the word out in communities, like the 38126 zip code, that show the least amount of confidence she says. 

“They are critical voices in this journey to get people to get comfortable with the vaccine and understand that it is not only for them personally; it’s for their families. It’s for the community,” she said. 

One example of faith leaders taking the reins? 

St. Patrick Catholic Church near downtown. 

The church teamed up with Memphis Health Center offering vaccines and meals to those in need.  

“Saturday we fed about 550 families,” said Chuck Thomas III.  

He is one of the dozens of volunteers who gave out those meals. 

He is thankful to offer his hand, he says.   

“We’re just excited and honored to be a part of just helping these people get some satisfaction in their lives,” said Thomas. 

Other volunteers we spoke to say the free meals incentivize the lesser-served communities to head out to these sites. 

But, unfortunately, in some instances incentives just aren’t enough. 

“Transportation is one of the most significant healthcare disparities issues in the community,” said Dr. Womeodu.  

She says getting people to the vaccine sites is another issue that needs to be addressed, adding it's going to take a joint-based approach if we want to get everyone on the same page.

The takeaway?

Better cooperation from city council, faith-based organizations and healthcare systems in the Mid-South will all contribute to our end goal of herd immunity.