SMiles Driver Lisa Styke Helps Effie Cotton

SMiles driver Lisa Styke helps Effie Cotton into the car to take her to a weekly appointment with a hairdresser in 2017. SMiles is a transportation program for people 60 and over who reside in Blount County. Drivers are volunteers.

Blount County seniors who don’t drive now have a way to get to their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

SMiles, Blount County Community Action Agency’s senior transportation program, is giving free rides to any ambulatory Blount Countian 60 or older who wants to get vaccinated.

The program usually charges people 60 and older $25 per year and $6 per ride, but seniors who need to get to their vaccination appointments will ride for free.

“That was going to be a huge health disparity, that seniors that didn’t have the ability to get to these shots were being left out,” BCCAA Executive Director Tammye Pirie.

SMiles drivers will take seniors to any vaccine provider in Blount County.

Vaccinefinder.org lists 17 Blount locations to get a COVID vaccine. On that list are Blount Senior Care Partners, City Drug, the Blount County Health Department, both Blount Discount Pharmacy locations, Lowes Drugs, both Kroger locations, The Little Clinic, American Family Care, Cherokee Health Systems, both Walmart locations, Village Pharmacy and both Walgreens locations.

Links to sign-up sites are available at vaccinefinder.org.

Seniors long have been coined the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people ages 85 and older are at greatest risk of death and hospitalization from COVID.

“Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s,” the CDC’s website states.

About half of Tennesseans vaccinated are 61 and older, Tennessee Department of Health data from Friday, April 9, shows.

Continuing to get vaccines in the arms of seniors is of utmost importance, local health officials say.

“Vaccine continues to be the only way to stop the spread of COVID, and it’s very important that we vaccinate as many people as we can as quickly as we can, starting with the highest-risk populations who are more likely to develop severe illness, require hospitalization and possibly die if infected,” Blount Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore said. “We know that COVID will continue to be around, but if we are able to dampen its ability to spread to these vulnerable individuals, it will be much more manageable.”

One of SMiles’ 130 volunteer drivers will drive any Blount County senior to a vaccine appointment and stay with them for 15 minutes after the shot before driving them home.

Pirie said talks about giving rides to vaccine appointments long have been in the works, but weren’t able to come to fruition until all SMiles drivers were vaccinated. As of mid-March, all SMiles drivers who wanted a vaccine have received one.

“We started getting phone calls here asking how we could help the shut-in seniors and seniors without transportation especially when all the COVID vaccination sites at the time were all drive-thru,” Pirie said. “The SMiles program was able to work with the officials and say ‘we’re able to provide that service.’”

Director of the Office on Aging Joani Shaver said SMiles volunteers have taken about 20 seniors to their vaccine appointments since the middle of March.

Seniors needing rides to their vaccine appointments can contact SMiles at 865-734-1331 or 865-317-4747.

Follow @_shelbyharris on Twitter for more from county government reporter Shelby Harris.

Reporter

Shelby joined The Daily Times in 2019 as a reporter covering county government.

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