Vaccine task force wants White House participation in virtual town hall meeting

The Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce held its last meeting on Zoom last week.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Since its inception, a grassroots group has been moving along on an ambitious agenda in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Primarily it wants to make getting vaccinated against the virus accessible to communities that are faced with health disparities.

The next major move for the Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce will come on March 25 when the group plans to have representatives from the White House participating in a town hall meeting. Rev. RB Holmes, chairman of the task force, called on FAMU President Larry Robinson to make the call on the White House to participate in a virtual town hall meeting.

“I will happily accept this new assignment,” Robinson said during the group’s virtual meeting last Wednesday. “It’s important that we connect with Washington as well. I think we have the right people that have been assembled to be a part of this.”

Robinson said he’ll update the group on plans for the town hall at their next meeting.

Meanwhile, the task force’s efforts to increase vaccination among Blacks got a boost when Bethel Missionary Baptist Church announced that on Feb. 20 vaccines will be available at its Family Life Center. Individuals should call 850-222-8440 to make an appointment.

A few days after taking the task force assignment, Robinson announced that FAMU will host a vaccination site, which was scheduled to open up earlier this week at the Lawson Center. FAMU is already hosting a testing site at Bragg Stadium.

The vaccine site will be operated by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health (Leon County). At least 200 vaccines will be administered daily seven days per week to eligible individuals. 

During last week’s task force meeting, it also announced that in addition to the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 task force, the group also plans to have participation from the Mayo Clinic during the town hall meeting next month. Robinson will have the assistance of Congressional representatives Al Lawson and Val Demmings in setting up the meeting, according to the group.

The town hall meeting will also feature representatives from other HBCUs. The group, which set a goal of getting 60 to 70 percent of Blacks vaccinated by the end of this year, will use the town hall to encourage people of color to take the vaccine.

That is what Dr.  Ivan Porter, a nephrologist, has been doing in recent months in his role as chair of a Community Engagement Committee at Mayo Clinic. He told the task force public engagement like it’s planning for March 25 are vital to reduce hesitance to the vaccine.

Since the vaccine was rolled out more than a month ago, surveys have shown that Blacks are lagging behind Whites in the number of vaccinations. In part, Holmes said, that could be attributed to disorganization in the distribution.

“Everybody knows the roll out hasn’t been perfect; the numbers are not real good,” he said. “But instead of crying about it we’re going to be proactive and put the pressure where it ought to be to make sure we get those numbers up.”

But winning public trust could be tricky in some communities, Porter said. 

“What works for one may not work for the other,” Porter said. “So facts are always important but for some facts don’t matter at all.”

However, he said the group’s approach of engaging figures that people trust is a solid approach.

“Video of myself getting the vaccine and sending that to my family and hearing members of my family telling me, ‘you know what, maybe I will get this vaccine,’ ” he said. “Speaking about my personal experience with a trusted group of friends may make them more likely to do so.”

While the task force is planning to have at least 86 statewide sites for administering the vaccine, the government is announcing more venues. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week that Walmart will start offering COVID-19 vaccinations at 30 percent of its stores in Florida.

Walmart and Sam’s Club will offer about 25,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older along with front-line healthcare workers at 119 locations in 34 counties, according to the governor’s announcement.

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