Community Registered Nurse Navigator Project
March 10, 2023
Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, routine immunization rates were in decline throughout Tennessee. According to TennIIS (Tennessee Immunization System), early childhood immunization rates fell between 2-26% during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, from the Tennessee Department of Health, “While immunization rates later in 2020 largely returned to 2019 levels, catch-up vaccinations have not occurred, leaving thousands of Tennessee’s children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. It will be an immense undertaking to identify and immunize children who have fallen behind on routine immunizations, but these efforts must begin immediately in order to mitigate the vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks the nation and state may experience while working to protect these children”.[i] Furthermore, routine immunizations in adults in Tennessee are below the national average and currently do not meet any of the 3 Healthy People 2030 objectives related to immunizations. This looming problem not only effects those that are not up to date on vaccines, but every person living in or visiting Tennessee now and in the future. Every Tennessean should have concern for the decline in rates as it puts the general public health and welfare at risk. However, community engagement can remedy this conundrum and make for a healthier Tennessee and strengthen our rural communities.
The UT Knoxville College of Nursing is aiming to do just that. The college received a $5.5 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Health in January of 2022 to charter the Community Registered Nurse Navigator Project. This project is structured to recruit experienced registered nurses from all health regions of Tennessee to partner with community entities (UT Extension, DOH Offices, Non-Government Organizations, churches, schools, and private health providers) and assess barriers to routine immunizations. Focusing on vulnerable and rural communities, but operating in all 95 counties, these Nurse Navigators have been working with collaborative partners to develop sustainable interventions to improve immunization rates that are tailored to specific community needs. Recruiting nurses and partners from within Tennessee’s communities allows Nurse Navigators to build on the public trust in nurses. The Nurse Navigators’ expertise and preexisting and developing social and professional networks have proven to be invaluable in our assessment phase. As we meet this grand challenge of increasing vaccine rates in the state, we have observed many barriers ranging from lack of vaccine education, lack of access to healthcare, and even political stigma from the debates and efficacy concerns related to COVID-19 vaccines.
If you are interested in assisting with the Community Registered Nurse Navigator Project in its efforts, we encourage you to visit our website at crnn.tennessee.edu and fill out our digital survey. Or contact your local Nurse Navigator and be a collaborative partner with networking information that may advance our efforts. We are so thankful for the opportunity to improve the health of all Tennesseans by decreasing the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases in our state. Our team is made up of the kindest hearts you’d ever encounter, the selfless heart of a Volunteer.