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00000177-b32b-d5f4-a5ff-bbfb6e660000Here is the information you need to know about COVID-19 in Northwest Florida. We will keep this post updated with the latest information from local, and statewide agencies. For inforamtion from Centers for Disease Control and prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirusFor updates on Florida cases of coronavirus, visit the FDOH dashboard.The COVID-19 call center is available at 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121

Team Building Vaccine Trust In Communities Of Color

Community Health NWFL

Work continues on getting the COVID vaccine in the arms of the western Panhandle’s communities of color, through a team effort of clergy, officials, and the Community Health Northwest Florida on Jordan Street in Pensacola and Stewart Street in Milton.

“Originally, we did experience some pushback; there were some questions about the vaccine – you know, is it safe?” said Sandra Donaldson, the clinic’s Chief Advocacy Officer.

She says historically, communities of color have faced uncertainties when it comes to having faith in the healthcare system.

“Building that trust was one of our first incentives with communities of color, particularly with African-American communities,” said Donaldson. “And getting the buy-in that the vaccine was safe, it was FDA-approved, and this is why you need it.”

Although it ended nearly a half century ago, the Tuskegee Experiment — injecting syphilis into Black men and studying its untreated effects — was an obstacle among older African-Americans, according to Donaldson.

“There were concerns, you know,” said Donaldson. “[Such as] ‘I don’t know if we can trust it.’ We knew that we had to make a very initial and aggressive conversation to build that trust in the vaccine. And that first place of trust is the community within itself – and the community leaders within itself.”

Credit Community Health NWFL
Sandra Donaldson, Chief Advocator, Community Health Northwest Florida.

To that end, the clinic produced a video outlining the nuts and bolts of coronavirus and the vaccine, featuring local physicians.

“COVID-19 vaccine works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick,” said Dr. George Smith, Chief Medical Officer at Community Health Northwest Florida, in the video.

Providing information in the video on the vaccines now in use – Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson – were doctors from the three major hospitals Drs. Jason Foland at Sacred Heart; Eric Schuck at West Florida, and Pelbreton Balfour at Baptist.

“The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the COVID-19 virus,” said Foland.

“Fact: before the FDA approves a vaccine, the clinical trials must show that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Schuck said.

“COVID-19 has greatly impacted our communities; the number of cases and deaths are disproportionally high in minorities,” said Balfour.

“The pastors and church members, as well as local community leaders that has had the vaccination or have said, ‘You know, it’s OK, it’s safe, trust the system,” said Sandra Donaldson at CHNF.

Winning hearts and minds – and arms – for vaccinations has truly been a team effort within the minority communities. Also appearing in the video is Lumon May, who represents District-3 on the Escambia County Commission.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to work with our faith-based, our local and state, and federal officials, as well as our community health care partners, for guidance regarding vaccine eligibility,” said May. “As the vaccine supply increases in our community, access and availability will increase. Don’t wait – vaccinate.”

Calls to May seeking further comment for this story were not returned.

The minimum age to get a COVID shot – originally 65 – is dropping like the proverbial rock. Currently 50, it goes down to 40 effective March 29 and to 18 by April 5. Donaldson says that brings a new challenge in swaying younger African-Americans.

“For this particular age group, they went back to the history of health care,” Donaldson said. “And they looked at how African-Americans were previously targeted in reference to health care, and there were concerns – ‘I don’t know if I can trust it.’”

Despite the skeptics, Donaldson expects larger numbers coming through the doors at all vaccination sites when they’re open for everyone 18 and older.

“Some of the calls we’re getting currently is that ‘I have preexisting,’ which qualifies them,” Donaldson said. “However, some of them don’t have preexisting; and they’re wanting to start back traveling and they want to have that extra layer of protection by having the vaccine.”

But even when one gets their full vaccination – be it one shot or two – Donaldson reminds everyone to continue existing safety practices. Wear a mask, social distance, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently.

More information is available at healthcarewithinreach.org.