Southside sites bring COVID-19 vaccine closer to Black communities

A steady flow of people last Saturday came through the Bethel Family Life Center for vaccination.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Larry Robinson, FAMU president, gives his approval after taking his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last Friday.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

While the coronavirus vaccine is hardly being distributed to Black communities around the state, disbursing it seem to becoming a little more equitable in Tallahassee’s Southside.

At least that’s the way it appeared, although there are concerns that the current designated eligible demographic of 65-and-older in areas where health disparities exist might not have the means to get to vaccine sites near them.

At least 500 doses were available last Saturday at Bethel Family Life Center in Frenchtown. The vaccine is also being given at Bond Community Health Center, FAMU was expected to begin administering the vaccine this week at Lawson Center, about three miles from another site at Leon County Neighborhood Medical Center at 872 West Orange Avenue. Another option between Frenchtown and the Southside is the FSU vaccine station at the Civic Center.

Prior to the vaccine being available at multiple Southside sites, Bethel AME Church was the only site opened to the public at-large about a month ago.

Having the vaccine available at sites on the Southside is a great complement to what Bond Community Health Center is offering, said Dr. Temple Robinson, CEO at the clinic.

“We are very happy that FAMU will also be offering vaccines,” said Robinson. “If vaccines are readily available to FAMU, they will be able to scale up from what we are providing.  We need to get as many people vaccinated in Tallahassee as quick as possible.  Bond can concentrate on vaccinating and providing healthcare services to its patients and Leon County residents who cannot travel and FAMU can fill the void of those whose primary care providers do not vaccinate or have limited access to vaccines.”

The clinic doesn’t have a set schedule, but vaccinations are given based on when an allocation is received from the state. While, Robinson said vaccine allotments are unpredictable, Bond administers vaccines, preferentially to its patients who are within guidelines set by the state. Following those same guidelines, Bond could also extend vaccines to the public, including assisted living facilities and the homeless communities.

The state has also offered the website (https://myvaccine.fl.gov/) for booking a vaccination appointment.

Through last Wednesday the state health department reported that 2,551,882 people had been vaccinated statewide. People in 65 to 74 years old age group accounts for 1,062,764 of those who took the vaccine. Others who have been vaccinated include first responders and frontline workers and those who live in nursing homes.

Since the vaccine rolled out about a month ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that priority be given to people 65 or older. However, eligible seniors in predominantly Black communities have struggled to get vaccinated.

Seniors, however, aren’t computer savvy enough to get to the registration site online. Additionally, many don’t have transportation to get to the sites closest to them.

Those same concerns have been at the center of a push by the Statewide Vaccination Community Engagement and Education Task Force for getting the vaccine into Black communities.

“The disparity is so significant that you have to bring it home; you have to bring it to the communities because they are not going to bring it to you,” said Don Tolliver, a member of the statewide task force.  “It’s OK to go to the grocery stores and the pharmacies but if you’re not comfortable with going out, I’m not going to go.”

The availability of vaccine sites in the Southside area could help to reach at least 60 to 70 percent herd immunity in Black communities, a goal of the statewide task force. 

As of last week, Blacks lagged behind with just 6 percent of the state’s African American population being vaccinated.

“Places here on the Southside are vital to help us get beyond this vaccine hesitancy,” said FAMU president Larry Robinson last Friday before taking his second shot of the vaccine at Lawson Center. “We will never get to herd immunity without institutions like our churches and education institutions playing a role in getting people vaccinate because we have a trust in those communities that other just don’t have.”

Like Tolliver, Robinson also is a member of the statewide task force. They suggested that community advocates take the lead in helping to get senior who need assistant to the vaccine sites. 

Talethia Edwards, a Bond Community leader and another member of the statewide task force, said she is willing to use her 14-passenger van to get eligible individuals to the sites.

“People are dying,” she said. “If it means driving people to the spot I definitely would.” 

Edwards added that those living in her neighborhood, which is less than a mile from FAMU, might consider taking the short walk to the Lawson Center.

“We have a have a great percentage of our community that is 65 and older so I’m hoping those in my community will go, taking a slow stroll,” she said, adding that the close proximity of vaccine sites to Black neighborhoods could help reduce hesitancy to the shot.

The same sentiment was echoed by City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, who added: “I think there is some distrust but I think for the most part it’s access.”

When the FAMU site opens to the public in Lawson Center, about 200 doses will be administered daily, said Tanya Tatum, FAMU director of Student Health Services.

“This is a targeted outreach,” she said in a statement. “This is how we are going to start reaching the underserved.”

While there is an on-going effort to vaccinate Blacks in underserved communities, DeSantis was catching criticism for making sure a community in Manatee County that is known to be home to the wealthy get the vaccine. The outrage was so loud that it attracted national media coverage that heavily criticized the governor.

The dust up started after Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh admitted to giving the order for pop-up vaccine sites in two of the county’s richest zip codes.

That, said Tolliver, is further proof that assisting Black seniors who are eligible for the vaccine should be a community-wide effort.

“I have to be able to go to Ms. Johnson’s house and sister Sally’s house and know that she doesn’t have transportation,” he said. “I need to know that she is sitting there and she needs the shot and get her kids and grandkids involved.”


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