TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — While many Florida seniors continue to struggle to get vaccinated, a bright spot seems to be the state’s bid to reach minority communities.
Those involved in a Northwest Florida pilot program last weekend called it a major success and now hope to take the next step, going statewide.
"I want to say that it was almost perfect," said C. Marcel Davis, pastor at Adoration For a New Beginning Church in Pensacola. "To see the smiles on their faces -- 'Oh, you can take me today? Yeah, come on.'"
Davis and his church helped organize the event in partnership with state and local leaders. Their goal was to create Florida's first vaccination zone dedicated to underserved and minority communities.
Together, the group was able to inoculate its target of 500 people in one day. Organizers then went a bit further, helping get shots in the arms of more than 80 additional Floridians.
Davis said it made him hopeful as research shows people of color are less trusting of the vaccines and face more accessibility hurdles.
"They laid down their fears, suspicion," said Davis. "They laid down their anxieties about it, and they recognized that, 'Hey, we have to do our part to help combat this disease.'"
Maximum minority participation will be needed if Florida is to reach herd immunity. It'll likely require more than 80% of the state's population to receive shots.
Florida Emergency Management, along with state health officials, spearheaded the initial concept to use churches and local leaders to reach minorities where they live and bolster immunization confidence.
DEM Director Jared Moskowitz said the project is a priority for him.
"I think going to the pastors, going to churches, going to people they trust, going to validators, hearing from those folks, I think will help with some of that apprehension," Moskowitz said.
Moskowitz said progress in Pensacola means more of the sites would pop up across the state in the coming weeks. DEM officials said to expect some new locations operating as soon as this Sunday.
Like Pensacola's operation, future sites will be closed to the public, using a voucher system to reserve shots for only those seniors living in the underserved areas. The pilot program is relying on word of mouth to get individuals interested and signed up.
"We focused here very heavily to make sure testing was not just free but was accessible," said Moskowitz. "We want to make sure the vaccine is as accessible in any community -- whether rural or urban, rich or poor."
Davis felt his community was now getting the attention it needed, perhaps becoming a blueprint for many others in the future.
"In our community, there is still hope," he said. "In our community, there is still faith. In our community, people are willing to trust the process and help combat this disease.”
Here are some key points about the coordinated attempt to vaccinate minority communities:
- Last weekend’s pilot program in Pensacola was deemed a success by organizers
- It used local church and other leaders to recruit and immunize nearly 600 in underserved areas
- Florida will open more of these sites this weekend
- The state says its goal is to ensure everyone has access to shots whether they live in poor, rich, urban, or rural communities