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Pinellas County maintains momentum in Covid-19 vaccination effort

Brian Hartz

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The Pinellas County Health Department held a Covid-19 vaccination event at the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater last week. Courtesy photo.

Thanks in part to ramped-up outreach to Black residents, Pinellas County continues to hold the top spot among Florida’s 10 most populous counties in terms of the percentage of its population that has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

As of April 16, 381,182 Pinellas County residents — which equates to 38.5 percent of the population — had been vaccinated with at least one shot, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. Equitable distribution of the vaccine has been picking up steam, with special vaccination events held at South St. Petersburg venues such as the Sanderlin Center and St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church, as well as the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater. This week, similar events are planned for Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and Frank Pierce Recreation Center at Bartlett Park.

“We’ve been around to different community groups and to different churches to bring the vaccine to people, to help flatten barriers to access,” said Tom Iovino, public information officer at the Pinellas County Health Department. “We know that in some communities, transportation may be one of the biggest barriers. So, we figure that if we can bring the vaccine to the people who need to get the shots, it’s much easier than trying to bring the people out to where the shots might be offered.”

Iovino, speaking to the Catalyst, said the health department has been proactively working with church pastors and leaders of community associations in an effort to improve communication about the vaccine and the importance of getting a shot. “For instance,” he said, “if we were to go to a church, we would speak to the pastor who could then remind people from the pulpit. The idea is to get as many people involved as possible and work together closely to make sure the word gets out that vaccines are available and easy to get.”

During the week of April 12-18, according to the release, more than 800 people were vaccinated at community centers in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Iovino said the grassroots, bottom-up approach is working.

“We’re also pushing very hard right now to make sure that people talk to others who have received the vaccine,” he said. “I know there are a lot of stories and questions out there, you know, ‘Is it safe?’ People have a lot of questions and what we want to do is, rather than have elected officials or medical professionals tell them, ‘Yes, it’s safe,’ have them talk to people who’ve gotten their shots. Because obviously, if somebody received a shot and there hasn’t been any side effects, that’s really powerful testimony.”

Iovino said walk-ups have been accepted at some vaccination sites but appointments are highly encouraged so the county can not only ensure adequate supply of the vaccine, but ensure follow-up appointments are scheduled for the second dose. The health department has primarily been using the Pfizer vaccine and so the recent “pause” in availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not been an issue. Still, Iovino said the county would like to see higher demand.

“We’re working to get that vaccine out to as many places as possible,” he said. “Vaccines do no good in a freezer; they do no good in a refrigerator. They need to be in arms.”

To schedule your Covid-19 vaccine appointment, visit the state’s patient portal or call 844-770-8548.

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