Research News

Aug. 18: Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy and VUMC present ‘Vaccine Hesitancy: The Politics of Public Health in Tennessee’


The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy and Vanderbilt University Medical Center will host “Vaccine Hesitancy: The Politics of Public Health in Tennessee,” a virtual event, on Wednesday, Aug. 18, at noon CT.  

In keeping with its mission to elevate facts and reasoned discourse into our national conversation, the project will convene a panel of medical and political experts who will present evidence on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine from their experience and debunk myths associated with vaccine hesitancy in Tennessee and across the broader U.S. 

The event is virtual and open to the public.

With an introduction from Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, the panel will be led by moderator Pamela R. Jeffries, dean of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, and featuring panelists:  

  • Dr. Alex Jahangir, orthopedic surgeon and executive medical director of the Center for Trauma, Burn and Emergency General Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Jahangir is chair of the Metro Nashville Board of Health and head of the Metro Nashville Coronavirus Task Force.    
  • Paul Mango, former deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration (2018-21), where he managed Operation Warp Speed.    
  • Former U.S. Congressman Phil Roe, M.D., U.S. representative for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District (2009-21), where he served as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and as co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus. Roe was a practicing OB/GYN for 31 years in Johnson City, Tennessee.  

“It is vital that we convene these conversations to elevate evidence on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and promote healthier communities in Tennessee and across the country,” said Gray Sasser, executive director of The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy. “Vanderbilt and VUMC scientists and public health experts have played a crucial role in developing solutions to the pandemic, and throughout this extreme case of profound uncertainty, we have a continued responsibility to pursue facts and evidence to educate our communities.” 

According to the 2021 Vanderbilt PollTennessee Republicans reported significantly more vaccine hesitancy than those identifying as Democrats or Independents. Rural communities continue to report significantly lower numbers of vaccinated populations, and Tennessee state officials paused vaccine promotions targeting adolescents amid pressure from state GOP lawmakers.  

This expert panel will offer evidence-based context and perspective to de-escalate current heated rhetoric and dispel commonly held misunderstandings about vaccine development and efficacy.  

A recording of the virtual event will be available on The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy’s website and shared with everyone who registered for the event. 

About The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy  

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy is a nonpartisan initiative that aims to elevate research and evidence-based reasoning into the national conversation. Drawing on original research, evidence-based papers and crucial conversations from Vanderbilt’s world-class faculty and visionary thought leaders of all political persuasion, the timely endeavor aims to give policymakers and the public the tools needed to combat conspiracy and unfounded ideology with evidence, data and respectful discourse. The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy can make a meaningful contribution to solving society’s most pressing challenges and bridging our deepest differences. Stay informed on project news, events on demand and research at