Even though people were coming through at the rate of one per minute to receive their COVID-19 vaccination at Meharry Medical College, physician assistant Cat Nash considered it a fairly normal day.
“We’ll see 360 today, and we’ve had up to 700,” said Nash, who serves as the clinical lead for vaccinations at the school.
Meharry, a historically Black medical school supported by the Black College Fund of The United Methodist Church, last year provided free COVID-19 testing. In January, the school began vaccination clinics, while also continuing to offer testing.
Situated in an often-underserved African American neighborhood, the school not only seeks to provide medical care to its community but also to educate those who may mistrust health providers or lack accurate information about the vaccines.
Taking on COVID-19
Meharry Medical College has created an information portal on its website with answers to common questions about the virus and vaccines, as well as a video series featuring “COVID-19 Facts” with Meharry president Dr. James Hildreth.
For that reason, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry’s president and CEO, elected to be vaccinated in front of news cameras in December 2020.
“I want people to know that the vaccine is entirely safe and as someone who has been studying viruses and vaccines for decades, I want to demonstrate that I have enough confidence in the safety that I'm taking it myself," Hildreth said at the time.
Hildreth has been involved with COVID-19 vaccine development from the beginning. He serves on the Food and Drug Administration committee that reviews vaccines and recommends approval, and led several vaccine trials at Meharry. In February, he was named to the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
“Meharry already having a presence here allows an opportunity to educate the community, and providing the service in their backyard is huge,” said physician assistant Chay Farley. “If they can go back and educate their friends and family, that’s the best way to get all the knowledge out there about COVID and the vaccine process.”
The school’s commitment to serving its community is what drew Joshua Ivare, a second-year medical student.
“I like being a member of a school that’s dedicated to serving the community,” he said. “You get caught up in schoolwork and other duties but that mission keeps you grounded.”
Cat Nash, a physician assistant, is the clinical lead for the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. She is a member of Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church.
Ivare works at the school’s Saltwagon Clinic, a student-run free clinic that provides care for underserved populations while serving as a training ground for students.
“This is why we are here; this is why we are learning and becoming doctors. It’s not for yourself, but to help others,” he said.
Meharry currently has vaccinations when it receives a supply from the city’s health department. Once the state government assumes distribution, the school can increase its frequency of vaccinations.
Nash said the goal will be to provide shots three to four times a week, with a possibility of placing additional mobile units at local churches. She said a big part of their vaccine rollout was to get as many clergy on board as possible.
“Being located in a predominantly African American neighborhood, medical mistrust is an issue,” Nash said. “Churches lend credibility and clergy are a good way to reach out to patients.”
Nash, who is a member of Brentwood United Methodist Church, had been working in the school’s general surgery department but said she transferred to work on Meharry’s vaccination program.
“Meharry has credibility with this community and serving them is a big reason why I came back from general surgery,” she said. “This is where my heart lives.”
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