Task force unveils action plan to get COVID-19 vaccine to minority communities

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Rev. R.B. Holmes.

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The Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce unveiled its 10-point plan Wednesday. It aims to get more COVID-19 vaccine to Florida’s minority communities. The Task Force announced the plan during a morning Zoom meeting.

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Task Force Chair Reverend RB Holmes said in the week since the group announced its formation and organizational structure, it put together a cohesive and comprehensive plan of action.

He called it the SMART plan.

“Specific. Measurable. Achievable and Timely,” he said.

A congested rollout

AS of Monday, Florida ranked 20th among states in first-dose vaccine distribution with about 630,000 – or 3.3 percent – of Floridians vaccinated. But the State, which was among the first to distribute the vaccine to the 65-and-older population, has come under fire for a confusing and congested rollout plan some say favor the wealthy. Sen. Rick Scott has called for an investigation, alleging nursing home donors and country club members were fast-tracked for vaccine doses.

That’s especially concerning to Task Force members. The virus has killed and hospitalized people of color at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Data from the CDC shows the mortality rate for each Black and Hispanic communities 3-percent higher than their white counterparts.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is a member of the Task Force. He said it’s up to the faith-based community; historically Black colleges and universities and other partner institutions to step in and help the government.

“Together we can solve the problem by working with our health care systems. Because the City can’t do it alone throughout the state of Florida,” he said. “The state of Florida can’t do it alone. The federal government can’t do it alone. It takes all of us working together.”

The plan

COVID-19 vaccine
Coronavirus vaccinations at St Johns Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. By Hillsborough County Department of Health, 2021.

The Task Force’s top goals include getting 60-70 percent of communities of color vaccinated by the end of the year. And, to identify 40 sites throughout the State within communities of color and underserved communities that’d serve as vaccine distribution sites by Jan. 31.

The Task Force will work with the Biden administration to use the Task Force as a model throughout the country. It will also make sure vaccines are allocated to underserved communities.

“We want to be able to go directly with our president and vice president and his Task Force to share our vision with them,” Holmes said. “And working with hospitals across the state of Florida to make sure the vaccines will be designated to those various venues.”

The action plan’s steps intend to foster communication and cooperation between government institutions; health systems and minority communities; as well as inform communities about the vaccine through marketing and educational campaigns. It will also look to make sure prisoners are included in vaccine distribution. And will urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to expand Medicaid.

A purpose that is righteous

Mayor Brown said the mission might be daunting. But he turned to the words of Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There is tremendous power when people come together around an issue that is clear, a cause that is just and a purpose that is righteous,” he said, quoting King.

Reverend Holmes said the Task Force will also work to ensure sustained health in underserved communities. One of the plans steps includes developing neighborhood health clinics in disadvantaged communities within 25 designated cities.

“COVID-19 just simply pulled back the scale of significant health disparities and food deserts within our communities,” he said. “When this is over – and it will be over – we cannot go back to business as usual.”

The Task Force will meet again Jan. 27, Feb. 24 and March 31.

 

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 13 January 2021:

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