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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 residents are getting booster shots at a new site meant to expand access to vaccines

Woman stands in front of a vaccination site in Hillsborough County wearing a face mask. Other people walk behind in her in the background.
Stephanie Colombini
Juanita Cook, 76, said she's lost loved ones to COVID-19 and wanted the booster shot to protect herself from the virus.

Seniors who showed up Monday say the site offered a convenient opportunity for them to get their booster shots. Only a limited group of people qualify, but other residents can visit the site for standard vaccination and testing.

Hillsborough County is expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing by opening a new community site at Progress Village Park.

A steady stream of people showed up to the site on its first day open Monday morning. Those needing testing went to a separate room in order to protect people getting vaccinated from possible transmission of the virus.

Many people who visited the site were there to get booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Some were younger adults with underlying health conditions or who worked in settings at high-risk for COVID exposure.

But most were seniors, like Roesolia Young, 92.

“I came here because it's so convenient, I live right down the street here on this same street,” she said.

Young was accompanied by her daughter Harriett Mosley who said her mom used to exercise at the park before the pandemic and wanted to go to a familiar place to get her shot.

Two elderly women stand next to each other wearing face masks inside a COVID vaccination site.
Stephanie Colombini
Roesalia Young, 92 (left), stands next to her daughter Harriett Mosley, 65. She said the COVID-19 vaccination site in Progress Village made it convenient to get a booster shot because she lives in the neighborhood.

That's how Juanita Cook, 76, felt as well. She goes to church in Progress Village and said she's relieved to get the booster.

“I've had some close friends and family members who've died from COVID and I want to be protected,” she said.

Cook said she knows she could still get the coronavirus but feels good knowing she will have an added layer of immunity to protect her from severe infection.

RELATED: 'Unequal Shots' series explores barriers to vaccination in Florida

The purpose of the site was to give residents more options when it comes to getting vaccinated or tested, said Iñaki Rezola, Hillsborough County’s operations section chief and deputy director for emergency management.

“We want people to go to the local pharmacies, we’re not here to compete with the CVS’s, the Walgreens, the Publix and the Walmart, we want them to go there,” he said. “But if they’re busy, they can’t get in, we’re giving people another option to come in and either get vaccinated or get tested,” he said.

Jeanine Lussier, 65, said she had looked into making an appointment for a booster at a local pharmacy but was confused about the signup process online. She drove up from Apollo Beach with her mother Anita Hartshorn, 86, and said this public site made things easier.

“I heard about it and I woke her up at six o’clock this morning and said, ‘We're going!’” Lussier said. “I mean, I do not understand why people don’t get the vaccine, it's safe. This is now the third one I’ve had, no reactions to either one and I feel healthy and I feel strong.”

An elderly mother and daughter stand next to each other. The daughter has her arm around the mom, who is holding a walker.
Stephanie Colombini
Jeanine Lussier (right) said she jumped at the chance for her and her mother to get booster shots at the Hillsborough site.

The site is located at 8701 Progress Blvd., Tampa, FL, 33619 and will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Only a limited group of people qualify for the booster shot (criteria listed below), but the site is also welcoming patients ages 12 and older to get first or second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

County officials are asking residents to make appointments for vaccinations. Walkups are accepted for testing, and both rapid antigen and PCR tests are available.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Testing locations and how to register for vaccines and booster shots across Tampa Bay

There were already some testing and vaccination sites in Hillsborough run by the City of Tampa, but Rezola said officials wanted to get a sense of how much need there was for a public site outside the urban core. He said Progress Village was a good fit both for residents of the historically-Black neighborhood and for those travelling from other parts of the county, as it’s close to major roadways.

“You know if lots and lots of people come for vaccinations here and demand is such, we’ll open some other sites, but if not we’ll see how long we keep this site open. We’ll keep it as long as our community needs us to keep it open,” he said.

Close up of a nurse's gloved hands as she prepares to fill a syringe with a vial of the Pfizer vaccine.
Stephanie Colombini
A nurse prepares a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Progress Village vaccination site.

Hillsborough County lists the following criteria for qualifying for a booster shot at the Progress Village site:

* Fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine

* Received second Pfizer vaccine dose at least six months prior to receiving the booster

Residents who SHOULD get booster shots are:

* 65 years old or older

* 50 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions

* Residents in long-term care facilities

Residents who MAY get booster shots:

* 18-49 years old with underlying medical conditions

* 18-64 years old at increased risk because of occupational or institutional settings

The county also states a person wanting to receive a booster must present their vaccination card that proves they received the Pfizer vaccination and states the date the second vaccination was administered.

People who have lost their vaccination cards can visit the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County to request a new vaccination card in-person, or online. They can also visit the location where they were originally vaccinated.

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.