Federal, state workers try to reach unvaccinated in Jacksonville

Workers going door to door in minority neighborhoods to offer vaccine appointments

Workers going door to door in minority neighborhoods to offer vaccine appointments.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Seven federal workers stood outside the Family Dollar on the Northside of Jacksonville. Each of them carried a stack of flyers with information on the Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination clinic just a few miles away.

Every time a car, bike or person pulled into the parking lot, one of the workers lunged forward, asking, “Have you been vaccinated?”

Wednesday’s canvassing is the latest effort by federal and state agencies to get more people, particularly in the low-income and minority communities of Jacksonville, to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

In a tweet Wednesday, the director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said state workers have knocked on 3,000 doors in minority neighborhoods across Florida, adding he was tripling the number of teams going into communities.

A spokesperson for the agency said Wednesday that 300 additional personnel would be heading to Jacksonville.

On Jacksonville’s Northside, there are two vaccination clinics: a state-run site at historically Black school Edward Waters College and a much larger federally-supported site at Gateway Mall.

In the first week the federally-supported site was open, it had the ability to vaccinate more than 21,000 people. Data released by FEMA shows fewer than half of the doses have been administered. As of Tuesday, the site has given out 9,310 shots.

Over the last week, the federally-supported site in Jacksonville has dealt with confusion amongst staff -- and prospective patients -- over who can be vaccinated at the site.

State workers turned away teachers under age 50 from the site March 3 and early Thursday in an attempt to follow the governor’s executive order, only to learn midday Thursday from the state Division of Emergency Management that the federal directive instructing sites to vaccinate all school personnel was to be used as policy at all federal vaccination sites.

On the first day of the federally-supported site’s operation in Jacksonville, it also turned away some with doctor’s notes and formal Florida Department of Health forms signed off by their doctors proving they were medically vulnerable to COVID-19. They were turned away because only doctors, pharmacists and advanced practice registered nurses could administer the shots to medically vulnerable, and they were not at the site yet. The issue was resolved by the next day, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

Over the weekend, the federal vaccination site at Gateway Mall gained the ability to give out more shots each day with new shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The site can now administer 3,000 shots a day at its main hub and 1,000 doses across two of its satellite sites.

The satellite sites are moving from Normandy Community Center and Hammond Senior Center to Carver Recreation Center in Jacksonville Beach and the Oceanway Community Center in Jacksonville on Sunday.

At the state-run clinic at EWC, Dr. A. Zachary Faison Jr., president of the college, said during statewide meeting that demand at the clinic was high enough that the state allocated more vaccine doses to the site. The site went from 200 doses a day to 500 on Monday.

The site has also become a hot spot for people who are ineligible to be vaccinated but are still seeking a dose. Minutes before closing Tuesday, workers at the clinic at EWC pulled nine people -- all of whom were ineligible for a vaccine under the governor’s executive order -- to receive shots that were already pulled from the vials and would expire overnight.

Agape Community Health Center has assisted the location at EWC with vaccinations. Agape’s CEO Mia Jones said her office just received clearance to build a team to travel within the community and vaccinate homebound seniors -- an effort they hope will help in administering all the doses given to them by the state.

Jones said the issue of turnout at state and federal vaccine sites is more nuanced than awareness and education against vaccine hesitancy. Jones said that even with walk-up clinics within their community, accessibility and transportation can be barriers.

“We had a 92-year-old that lives two blocks from here. After we did the press conference, she said, ‘I can make it two blocks.’ She walked two blocks to get here,” said Jones. “We had a family member drop people off, but the family had to go to work so they left.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.