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In Fall 2020, WUSF began reporting on how distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine exposes inequities in Florida's health care system. Our stories focus on the voices of residents in communities of color and how Florida's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution affects them.WUSF’s reporting on disparities in health care access is funded in part by the COVID-19 Response Initiative of Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Hillsborough County Continues Partnering With Black Churches, Vaccinates 600 Seniors

Health worker vaccinates Lolita Johnson, who is wearing a black and yellow dress, as she sits in a chair.
Stephanie Colombini
For Lolita Johnson, 70, the coronavirus vaccine is a way to protect herself so she can stay healthy and spend time with her grandkids.

The county hosted another community vaccination event, this time at a Baptist church in downtown Tampa. The goal is to make the vaccine more accessible in underserved communities.

Hillsborough County is continuing to partner with Black churches to distribute coronavirus vaccines to seniors.

County health workers administered shots to about 600 seniors on Sunday at Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Tampa.

Lolita Johnson, 70, of Progress Village attended after her church leader, whom she trusts, recommended she get the vaccine.

“I’ve got four blessings, my grandchildren, and I want to be safe,” she said.

Johnson was nervous to get her shot at first but was happy when the process was over in under a minute. She told the paramedic who vaccinated her she barely felt a thing.

“Praise the Lord,” she said with a laugh.

Eleven area churches participated in the event and were responsible for inviting their parishioners who are 65 and older and scheduling their appointments.

The Florida Department of Health, City of Tampa and University of South Florida were partners as well.

Earlier this month, the county administered 500 doses at another vaccination event at St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa’s College Hill neighborhood.

Dr. Kevin Sneed, dean of USF's College of Pharmacy, said these events make the vaccine more accessible, especially for people of color who are most at risk for the virus.

Only about 5% of people who have been vaccinated in Florida so far are Black.

Sneed said the large number of people wanting to sign up for the event shows there is a lot of demand.

“What we have right now are people wanting to get the vaccine and our only limitation right now is having enough product come into our state to fill that need,” Sneed said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, surrounded by Dr. Douglas Holt and Dr. Kevin Sneed, speaks in front of a mic stand.
Stephanie Colombini
Officials say they want to host more of these community vaccination events, but said most of the limited supply is dedicated to drive-thru sites.

Limited supplies is a problem for everyone involved in the distribution effort, according to Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough.

“The rate we’re going right now is as fast as we can with the vaccine we have,” he said. “If we get more vaccine we can speed this up.”

Holt said most doses the county receives are going to its drive-thru sites, but he said the department is requesting a separate supply of vaccine to dedicate for more pop-up clinics.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said these are critical to protecting city residents.

“We want to see this event every single Sunday in our community until we get everyone vaccinated against COVID-19,” she said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers, who took on her role this year after residents elected her in November, organized the event at Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and said she was honored to bring the vaccine to underserved communities.

“The most important thing is as you take the first shot, know that you must come back for the second shot,” was her message to attendees.

The county is inviting all seniors who were vaccinated on Sunday to come back on Feb. 14 for their second dose.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.