Advocates worry homeless communities will be left out of Tennessee's vaccine rollout

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Posted at 6:25 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 07:30:16-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As Tennessee's COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, advocates worry one at-risk group will be left behind.

"We know that people experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of being exposed because if they're living in a shelter they don't have the ability to social distance, " Bobby Watts said.

Watts is the CEO of the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, which is based in Middle Tennessee. He worries that despite those risk factors, homeless communities may miss out of vaccination efforts -- even as the pandemic has pushed more people onto the streets.

"And these are individuals at high risk of having some real bad health problems," he explained.

Those barriers include a transportation issues, difficulties making appointments, healthcare inequities and a lack of reliable information about vaccines.

"We need to have accurate information that tailored to each special population that is delivered by trusted ambassadors," Watts said.

Some states have prioritized homeless communities in their vaccine rollout, something that was suggested by the CDC, but Tennessee hasn't. Watts worries if people experiencing homelessness don't get the vaccine, the impacts of the virus will linger both inside, and outside, of encampments.

"If we allow a large number of people to not receive preventive vaccinations, then we will still have pockets of the disease throughout our society and that really does affect everyone," he said.