JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As people around the world entered lockdown last March, Nicole Green began a cross-country trip. She has been away from home for more than a year traveling to New Jersey, Minnesota, Louisiana, New Hampshire and now Florida, helping states in their COVID-19 response.
Green is a licensed practical nurse. Most of her assignments over the last year have involved direct patient care with people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“In the end, you were the family. You were it,” Green said. “Especially in the beginning, the family couldn’t come in. You saw a lot of deaths. You were it.”
Green came to Jacksonville last week on her latest assignment. She is one of hundreds knocking on doors in Jacksonville neighborhoods, trying to convince, register and even transport people to get COVID-19 shots.
Even as federal vaccination sites wind down their operations, Green and more than a dozen workers spend all afternoon and into the evening signing up the most vulnerable for shots.
The effort is a high priority for Florida as it races to vaccinate more seniors before waiving the age requirement completely. Earlier this month, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said he tripled the teams in the field knocking on doors in minority neighborhoods across Florida. Moskowitz called it “an additional tool to battle health equity.”
State workers dressed in neon green shirts knocked on 67 doors in Jacksonville by noon Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the Division of Emergency Management. Out of the 67, 35 resulted in conversations, and teams were able to register five people before noon.
“The goal is to get as many as we can,” Green said.
As Green and her team walked house to house in an Arlington neighborhood, most did not open their doors. The volunteers left flyers for them instead.
At one home, a young man answered the door and said his mother was the only person in the house over the age of 50. His mother did not speak English. One of the workers asked in Spanish if his mother had been vaccinated and if she was interested in getting a COVID-19 shot. The answers to both questions were no.
Workers said it illustrates one of the challenges they face often while canvassing. Unless they are walking with someone who speaks the person’s language fluently, they are sometimes not able to engage in conversation to answer questions and refute misconceptions about the vaccine.
Green and her team also came across people who had no interest in getting the vaccine, like Babetta, a 42-year-old health care worker who said she has already had COVID-19 twice but wants to do more research before taking the vaccine.
“I don’t want to be, but I know eventually they are going to force it because I am in a health care field,” said Babetta. “I don’t feel I have to be. It should be a personal choice.”
The mission of the state outreach teams has become more important as state and federal vaccination clinics across Jacksonville have struggled to give away all the doses, they have available.
The first day people age 50 and older were eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida was the first time in a week that all five state and federal vaccine clinics in Jacksonville administered more than 60% of the doses available to them.