Hundreds of Jacksonville seniors still waiting for COVID-19 shots

JHA says state never reached out to set up clinics for public housing communities

JHA says state never reached out to set up clinics for public housing communities.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 2 million seniors in Florida have been inoculated against COVID-19 so far, but as the state begins to lower age requirements, hundreds of seniors are still being missed in low-income housing.

This week, the Florida Division of Emergency Management went into 145 Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 202 facilities, which provide supportive housing for the elderly, and vaccinated those who were qualified to get their shots. The agency said it vaccinated over 9,000 seniors in two weeks and it planned to wrap up the effort on Friday.

State vaccine clinics were held at 10 Duval County HUD apartment complexes as a part of the vaccination effort, according to a Division of Emergency Management spokesperson.

But officials with the Jacksonville Housing Authority say the state did not reach out to them to set up vaccine clinics at their four government housing complexes that service more than 700 seniors, as well as people with disabilities.

Otis Bess Jr., 71, is a Vietnam veteran and a resident of JHA senior high-rise Centennial Towers. Bess said his doctor already planned for him to be vaccinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs because of his age and cancer diagnosis. But Bess said he worries for his wife and others who live at the complex.

“A lot of the clients here either don’t have a way to go and then you got others, I think they are just a little leery of the vaccine,” Bess said. “I have had both shots of the Pfizer and maybe during the process that they do, I can get my wife taken care of too, because she is my healthcare provider.”

Marvin Levine, who works as the service coordinator at low-income independent living apartments Towers of Jacksonville, said he spent weeks calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Sen. Marco Rubio trying to secure vaccine appointments for his most vulnerable tenants.

“Everyday residents are calling me asking, ‘When are we getting the shot?’” Levine said. “I got about 200 people who live here and half of them got their shots already, but the other half were unable to get out, they don’t have the money to get a cab, the support system, the family. Some people can’t leave their apartments, some of them are too ill.”

After weeks of phone calls, Levine said, contractors for the state came to vaccinate residents living at Towers of Jacksonville. One of his residents, Donna Taylor, got the Pfizer vaccine. And for the first time in nearly a year, she left her room.

“I am grateful for them to come here and vaccinate our people because the atmosphere around here is so much nicer and so much calmer and you can feel the relief in their voice,” Levine said. “You know, we are finally going to be okay.”

The Jacksonville Housing Authority said while the agency has not heard from the state about in-house vaccine clinics, its workers have already begun signing residents up for vaccination appointments at federal and state-run vaccine locations. An agency spokesperson said JHA is lining up a third-party provider to come in and vaccinate its seniors soon.

The Division of Emergency Management has not answered questions about whether it plans to create vaccine clinics at public housing authorities throughout the state.


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About the Author:

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