| Florida Times-Union
As Jacksonville’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout nears the three-month mark and the federal site’s three-week mark, community efforts are centering around getting the word out to the city’s most vulnerable populations.
This week, workers stood outside a Northside Jacksonville Family Dollar store, passing out circulars with information about the city’s federally assisted vaccine site at the Gateway mall. Officials also said they hired 300 additional workers to do community door knocks throughout Jacksonville.
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Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency, announced that across the state, workers are knocking on as many as 3,000 doors in minority neighborhoods to offer vaccine appointments. The Jacksonville Transporation Authority also launched a ride service last month, giving locals free, direct options to get to vaccine sites.
Mia Hobdy, executive director of the New Town Success Zone — a community service organization located on the Edward Waters College Campus — said the group has been promoting the state-sponsored vaccine site at the school’s James Weldon Johnson Gym building along with messaging about who is eligible for the vaccine by putting flyers in grocery bags when doing grocery distribution for residents.
Sen. Audrey Gibson announced a promotion Saturday called “We Care: Each One, Gets One,” where people are encouraged to bring someone who is 65 or older to the Gateway mall site. Anyone who brings a senior will also get vaccinated, Gibson said — a promotion that typically isn’t offered. The event, which takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. will include complimentary honey drippers and ice cream.
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It’s all part of an initiative health care workers say is crucial if we want to see a return to normalcy from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We look to someone to say ‘if they say [the vaccine is] OK, then it’s OK for me to do it,'” said Mia Jones, the CEO of AGAPE Community Health Center, the Federally Qualified Health Center in Duval County. “If in your circle you haven’t seen that person take those steps … then you’re at a disadvantage.”
Consistently, vaccine sites in Jacksonville have failed to reach capacity compared to the number of doses the federally assisted sites have been allotted.
Over the past two weeks, the Gateway mall site — which was built to provide 2,000 to 3,000 doses daily, has failed to even hit 2,000. It hit a record high on Thursday, providing 1,938 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Friday’s numbers were not immediately available.
At a virtual town hall hosted by the I’m A Star Foundation and the Florida Times-Union, a group of young people, media personalities and health professionals brainstormed ways to make the vaccine more desirable in a city that has been struggling to hit daily vaccine allotments at its federally supported main site and satellite sites.
“We know that African Americans and minorities are more likely to have health disparities more than any other population,” Jones said at the event. “We have to encourage those who are qualified to get the vaccine to go ahead and get it so we can help to spread the word a lot more.”
Currently, under state regulations, people 65 and older are eligible for the vaccine, as well as healthcare workers, educators, first responders who are 50 or older and the medically vulnerable population — so long as they have a doctor’s signature on a special state form. Starting Monday, those eligible to get the vaccine will decrease to 60.
Medical professionals like family medicine specialist Dr. Rogers Cain and Mayo Clinic family physician Dr. Kim Barbell Johnson have criticized the barriers in place when it comes to eligibility.
Dr. Cain said the need for a doctor’s note, especially a state-specific form, limits people who don’t have a primary care specialist or easy access to a doctor’s office.
“We have had our hands tied by the language of the law. Until that language permits us to do more, we can’t do more,” Dr. Barbell Johnson said. She added that she has spent weekends speaking at churches and talking to groups, encouraging people to get the vaccine, but it only does so much if people she convinces are not yet eligible.
“It’s been a shame that the same people we are getting ready and rallied to get their vaccines don’t have access because our hands are tied,” Dr. Barbell Johnson said. “The burden of this process on ethnic minorities has a lot to do with the law.”
State data shows that white people are overwhelmingly more like to have been vaccinated than marginalized groups so far. In Duval County, the gap is smaller than the state average, but still jarring with white people having been vaccinated more than three times as much as Black people.
According to Dr. Cain, while most of that is because of equity disparities, another piece of the puzzle is vaccine hesitancy among the Black community.
“Vaccine hesitancy is the result of historical atrocities that have occurred under the U.S. government and people being afraid of what this vaccine may do to them.”
Mya Smith, a 37-year-old Jacksonville resident who lives near the Normandy vaccination clinic, said she would not get the shot when her age group becomes eligible.
”I think more information is needed about the vaccines and their side effects,” Smith said. ”I’m sure people have side effects, and they are not saying.”
Participants at Thursday night’s town hall who had already received the vaccine expressed little-to-no side effects, comparing it to recovering from the flu with mild fevers or fatigue.
Dr. Barbell Johnson said that because the vaccine is so new, it’s impossible to document long-term effects from the vaccine thus far, but that to her, the risks of contracting COVID-19, including death, outweigh any potential health concerns from the vaccine.
Debbie Williams, who is 57, said she, too, will be holding off on getting one of three available vaccines when her age group becomes eligible.
”I have an underlying lung condition called Sarcoidosis,” Williams said. ”I’m extremely leery at this point with anything that may impact my lungs.”
Williams added, “my pulmonologist recommended that I take caution, and she recommended that I wait if I was not comfortable, which I am going to do. Maybe I will change my mind in a couple of weeks, but it’s a no for me right now.”
To that end, students asked professionals how to frame the vaccines to older family members who might be concerned about how quickly they were developed.
The doctors compared it to a recipe in the kitchen becoming more efficient because of new technology — like an air fryer.
“If you understand that the technology will help this science come to air, I think that will help people be less concerned with the timing,” Dr. Barbell Johnson said.
Dr. Cain added, “the batter was already mixed. Everything was ready for the cake. The mRNA vaccines have been in the works for 10 years. All we had to do was stick it in the oven. It was pretty easy for [scientists] to just put that last little added ingredient on it and bring the vaccine to fruition.”
At his presidential address Thursday evening, President Joe Biden announced a directive for vaccines to be available to adults of all ages by May.
Jacksonville native Judea Mikell, 62, plans to get vaccinated soon. She has been doing her own research to determine which of the three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — have the least amount of side effects should she be given an option. Some vaccine sites, like the Gateway Mall location, have given recipients their choice depending on what vaccines were available.
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The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though newest to the market, only requires one dose while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two.
Doctors advise that side effects will vary from person to person and it’s not recommended to “hold out” for one vaccine versus another when it comes to a disease that has prompted a global pandemic.
Still, Mikell has discussed vaccines with friends and members of her church, comparing side effects.
“I figure, whenever I get the shot, it will probably be the Moderna,” she said. “I don’t have any underlying issues — no high blood pressure or none of that stuff. So I will keep that in mind.”
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