Mayor Lee Harris creating new COVID council to increase vaccination rates in South Memphis


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In one south Memphis zip code, vaccination rates are amongst the lowest in Shelby County. To decrease vaccine hesitancy in 38106, County Mayor Lee Harris created a new COVID community council.

Meet registered nurse Melanie Keller. Public health is her concern as a nurse and the president and CEO of Meritan.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do for months from a professional and personal standpoint. Let’s not politicize this. This is about your health. This is about public health,” Keller said.

Keller worked at the mass vaccination site, putting shots into the arms of hundreds and getting the vaccine herself. She knows many who’ve survived their COVID-19 battles and many who didn’t.

“Some were in ICU,” Keller said. My brother is an E.R. nurse. He had COVID and knowing personally some people who passed away.”

In the 38106 zip code in South Memphis, Keller and others hope to help save the lives of strangers by arming them with knowledge about vaccines. They’ll be knocking on doors to deliver vaccine information packets and masks.

“My tagline since it started is, ‘It takes a village to vaccinate,’ and I want to be part of that village and strengthening our community,” Keller said.

Related: Shelby County nearly halfway to 700k vaccination campaign goal

The 38106 zip code is a community where health department data show coronavirus infection rates are among the highest in the county, while vaccinate rates are among the lowest.

“That’s where the data shows up the uptake was relatively low, and the goal is across those days to knock on a relatively, 2,000 doors across those two days,” Harris said.

The task force is made up of essential workers such as nurses, teachers, COVID survivors, and young people like 16-year-old Kaleb Sy.

“COVID has affected my family, family friends and even my friends at school,” Sy said.

During the pandemic, the East High School sophomore created social media videos to encourage people to mask up and now wants people to get the vaccine.

“Hopefully, with our work on the Community Council, we can reach that herd immunity level much faster to get back to the Tigers Football games and Memphis Grizzlies basketball games,” Sy said.

Related: Tennessee to administer vaccine to young teens

Volunteers knocking on doors to save lives.

“It’s all about saving lives and of course getting shots in arms,” Sy said.

“I’m enthusiastic about it,” Keller said. “And I’m got my walking shoes and I’m ready to hit the ground running.”

Volunteers will be back on the streets Friday afternoon.

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