NewsSarasota, Manatee County


Sarasota Memorial Hospital gets COVID-19 vaccines to underserved community

Posted at 3:28 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 18:18:06-05

SARASOTA, Fla. — Medical experts say communities most hurt by COVID-19 are getting the vaccines at a slower rate.

The CDC says communities of color are a critical population to vaccinate. Black Americans with COVID-19 are hospitalized at three times the rate of white Americans.

But when Sarasota Memorial Hospital vaccinated 3,000 people at a recent event open to the public, they noticed there were very few minorities.

"We wanted to make sure each part of our population had access to those shots," said David Verinder, SMH CEO.

That’s why they decided to go into the community.

"Newtown is one of the most underserved communities in Sarasota," said Dr. Wilhelmine Wiese-Rometsch, SMH internal medicine residency program director.

The hospital brought the remainder of their vaccines to their Newtown clinic, vaccinating nearly 400 people.

"The fact that you brought it in the community will give people without cars or access to transportation, to be able to get to it," said Tommy Clark, a senior in Newtown who received the vaccine.

Access to the vaccine has been a problem for underserved communities.

Doctors say lack of transportation, lack of availability for appointments and questions concerning the vaccine has left behind one of the most vulnerable populations of seniors.

"Our patients here in Newtown have a lot of chronic conditions that put them at a significantly higher risk," said Dr. Wiese-Rometsch. "If they were to get COVID their outcomes would be much much more severe."

This is why the state started a pilot program last week to distribute 500 doses of the vaccine through seven churches in underserved communities across the state including St. John Progressive Baptist Church in Tampa.

The pilot program is expected to expand as the state continues to receive additional vaccine allocations.

Clark says providing vaccines to communities like his should remain a priority.

"You should do what we should do for each other as brothers and sisters and that is look out for each other," said Clark.