Mobile vaccine program leaders receive Vanderbilt’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award

Assistant Professors Christian Ketel and Carrie Plummer received Vanderbilt’s 2022 Martin Luther King, Jr. Award on Monday, Jan. 17, for developing and leading the VUSN/VUMC Mobile Vaccine program. The award recognizes Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, School of Nursing or Medical Center staff or faculty who emulate the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their work.

Headshot of Carrie PlummerKetel and Plummer were honored for their leadership of Vanderbilt’s mobile vaccine program, which launched in March 2021. The program, a joint venture between Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, provides COVID-19 vaccines to the uninsured and others who might not otherwise have access to the vaccine.

It has focused primarily on residents in Hispanic, Somalian, Kurdish, African American, homeless and low-income communities. Since the program began, Vanderbilt volunteers have vaccinated more than 6,500 people and given approximately 14,000 doses (first, second and booster).

Headshot of Christian KetelThe mobile program provides vaccinations both through door-to-door outreach and clinics organized with community and neighborhood groups. Ketel and Plummer cite partnerships as key to success.

“Since the program began, I’ve learned about the power of partnership in helping break down barriers to health care access,” Plummer says. “The Mobile Clinic would not have been nearly as successful in its vaccination outreach efforts without the support of our diverse group of community partners and the passion of our volunteers.”

Among those community partners are the Hispanic Family Foundation, Elmahaba Center, Fannie Battle Day Care, Valor Academy Charter School, Amed Clinic, East Nashville Tomato Festival, YMCA of Middle Tennessee, and churches such as Our Lady of Guadeloupe Catholic Church, Casa de Gloria and Seventh Day Adventist Church South Nashville. The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency and Urban Housing Solutions are key partners in reaching residential communities.

Staffing for the mobile clinics, door-to-door campaigns and outreach to homebound individuals has included faculty, staff and students from the School of Nursing, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, VUMC, Monroe Carell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb College of Pharmacy, Vanderbilt Global Health Institute and volunteers from the Nashville and Murfreesboro communities. Undergraduate interns from Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science, Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee State University have also been part of the project.

“These last few years of the pandemic have been challenging for all of us—on so many different levels. One of the things that kept me feeling hopeful was being able to engage in this on-the-ground work with my amazing co-director Dr. Christian Ketel, our pharmacy colleagues Dr. Sarah Uroza and Dr. Justin Kirby from Lipscomb University, and the rest of our volunteer crew.”

What started as two nurse practitioners’ instinctive desire to help vulnerable people during a health crisis of unprecedented magnitude has provided insight into strategies for fighting health inequity.

“Serving my community through the VUSN/VUMC Mobile Vaccine Program has shown me that equal access for all to medical care is possible. When you strip away the systematic barriers to health care and place people and communities first, you can achieve great things,” Ketel says.

Both faculty were surprised and humbled that they were nominated for the award and that others saw them as emulating King.

“Dr. King spoke of and fought against systemic inequities in the U.S.—including those embedded in our health care system. To receive the MLK Award, alongside my colleague Dr. Christian Ketel, is an honor and truly humbling,” Plummer said.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. paid the ultimate price for standing up for his values and beliefs. I am humbled to think that I have reflected even a miniscule amount of the love that he radiated with his life,” Ketel said. “I am so grateful for my co-director, Dr. Carrie Plummer. I have found a life-long friend and ally in the fight against health disparities.”

Read more about the VUSN/VUMC Mobile Vaccine Clinic in the Fall 2021 issue of “Vanderbilt Nurse” magazine.