Statewide Coronavirus Taskforce unveils plan for 86 minority community vaccination sites

Taskforce identifies minority community vaccination sites
Posted at 6:51 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 18:51:53-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — As Florida looks to get more people vaccinated, there's been a challenge in some minority communities.

In Leon County, nearly 30,000 people have been vaccinated, but only 2,700 are African-American.

Now, faith leaders are hoping to get more vaccines into under-served communities.

The Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce, led by Bethel Missionary Baptist Church's Reverend RB Holmes, was formed in December 2020.

The main goal of the group is to encourage 70 percent of the African-American population in Florida to take the COVID-19 vaccines, as well as support more vaccination sites in minority communities.

The task force unveiled 86 proposed vaccination sites across the state Wednesday. The list would add 11 more sites to the Big Bend from Gadsden to Taylor County.

The majority of the sites are in either churches or community centers.

"We need trusted venues where people feel comfortable going to. They trust their black churches. They trust their neighborhood community centers," said Pastor R.B. Holmes.

Rev. R.B. Holmes said in many African American communities, you'll find a church on every street corner. Unlike Publix, which has become a major distribution site for the vaccine in some parts of the state.

"Many poor folks don't go to Publix in their neighborhoods. They can't find a Publix. For farmers in south Florida, the nearest Publix is 25 miles away," he said in the press conference.

For 81-year-old Malcolm Barnes, the COVID-19 vaccine is his ticket to returning to his role as grandpa. Barnes said the moment he received his first dose, it lifted his spirits.

"I'm one step closer to seeing my 7-year-old Granddaughter again."

Across the state, of the 1.6 million people now vaccinated, but only about 80,000 are African-American.

Barnes said access to the vaccination is one factor keeping the number of vaccinated African-Americans low. The other issue is mistrust.

"I would give 60 percent to access and 40 percent to trust issues in my circle. As more get the virus, more come along," said Barnes.

Mistrust in the community stems primarily from the Tuskegee Experiment conducted by the US Public Health Service and the CDC from 1932 until 1972.

The study focused on syphilis in Alabama. It involved 600 black men, 200 who did not have the disease. They were all told they were being treated for "bad blood."

"The hesitation and the skepticism historically. The Tuskegee Experiment is still fresh upon our minds," said Barnes.

But Holmes assured that isn't the case. He's now fighting to get more people to have faith in this particular piece of science.

"We can not walk in fear. We're dying disproportionately. Many of us rolled up our sleeves before the camera because we knew it was necessary to lead by example and not rhetoric," said Holmes.

Malcolm Barnes says he's taken the message he's heard from Pastor RB Holmes and spread them in his community.

"This is a life and death situation. I repeatedly say indecision and hesitation are thieves of life," said Barnes

The task force said they're still waiting on a response from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

That's more than a month after they sent him a letter outlining their plan. Last month the state partnered with seven places of worship including Bethel Missionary to get vaccines into underserved communities.

The taskforce is also now focusing on getting help from the federal government.