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Asa LaFara, in his 90s, receives the second dose of his COVID-19 vaccine in the Student Union Ballroom

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing has been awarded a $5.5 million grant—its largest to date—from the Tennessee Department of Health to increase immunization rates for children and older adults in the state of Tennessee.

The project will place 14 registered nurses, dubbed community RN navigators, across the state to provide county-level support to improve the rates of vaccination against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The project will also provide UT Extension professionals with a knowledgeable liaison to help enhance vaccine education and outreach.

Victoria Niederhauser, dean and Sara Rosenbalm Croley Endowed Dean’s Chair of the college, and Nan Gaylord, associate dean of practice and global affairs, will be leading the grant.

Victoria P. Niederhauser, Dean and Professor of College of Nursing,“As we have navigated through a global pandemic for the last two years, our immunization rates in Tennessee have dropped,” said Niederhauser. “We believe that deploying RNs across the state to assess barriers and create interventions to improve these rates will lead to better health outcomes for children and older adults in Tennessee.”

Additionally, the college will leverage students, faculty, and staff from other nursing schools within the UT System in order to support county-specific interventions that will help educate and increase access to vaccines for all Tennesseans.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination rates in children and older adults declined, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, for a variety of reasons: many medical offices were either closed or limiting in-person visits, patients and parents feared COVID-19 exposure, and health departments were overwhelmed with COVID issues.

Part of the college’s mission is to improve the health of communities, families, and individuals by addressing policy and social issues through advocacy and leadership. The college seeks innovative partnerships to help improve health for everyone.

“Our efforts will increase the immunization rates in counties across the state to help protect Tennesseans against communicable diseases,” said Gaylord. “The college has a strong commitment to the health and well-being of our Tennessee community. This project aligns with our mission and efforts to continue to improve health for all.”

The project began in January and runs through 2024.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,

Kara Clark Cardwell (865-974-9498,