Not one, but two health care leaders in Nashville have been named to the Biden administration’s equity task force to oversee the COVID response. One is the leader of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, based in Nashville.
Bobby Watts says it’s an honor to have the ear of the White House. But he also expects he’ll need to speak up for those who are homeless, since in some states like Colorado they’ve been pushed down the list during vaccine distribution, as other, more influential groups take priority.
“That is a big concern, and we are in a race against the clock with the [coronavirus] variants, which have higher transmissibility,” Watts says.
Early in the pandemic, homeless shelters in Nashville experienced rapid outbreaks. Tennessee put people experiencing homelessness at the end of the line in phase 3, though many would fit in phase 1c, which captures most people with risk factors related to COVID.
Some states and Washington, D.C., put people experiencing homelessness in the early phases of distribution but are now tempted to move other, louder constituencies in front of them, Watts says.
“And it’s really because of politics more so than based on actual risk, according to the science,” he says, noting the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Watts says he also plans to advocate for ways the vaccine could more easily reach people who live on the streets or encampments. One idea is producing vials that contain just one dose instead of six or eight. That way health workers could worry less about waste and more about vaccinating anyone they find who is willing.
Another platform for Hildreth
The president of Nashville’s Meharry Medical College, Dr. James Hildreth, was also named to the Biden administration’s 12-member health equity task force.
During the pandemic, Hildreth has shared his medical expertise in infectious disease both locally and nationally, becoming a key public health figure who has proven himself adept at breaking down the science of virus transmission and helping people understand why they’re being asked to wear masks and keep their distance.
“I am committed to working with our national leadership to develop cohesive plans that will address these silent killers — illnesses like COVID-19 that impact our most vulnerable populations at alarming rates,” Hildreth said in a statement.
“We must address the pandemic together. I am confident that President Biden’s heightened focus on the pandemic will accelerate testing, treatment and vaccinations nationwide — proven strategies that will work to mitigate the virus and protect our people.”