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COVID-19 vaccine distribution within Marion County’s African American and Latino communities

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 5:48 PM EST
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - Over one million Floridians have received the COVID-19 vaccine, but there’s some concern over who isn’t getting the vaccine.

In Marion County, faith leaders play an important role in getting their congregation vaccinated.

In partnership with the Heart of Florida Health Center, the Marion County Health Department, Marion County Emergency Management and Ocala Fire Rescue, roughly 250 people were vaccinated Wednesday at St. John’s Baptist Church - with a focus on the African American community.

“There is a bona fide health care disparity in black communities and Latino communities and we must do something about it, and so this is the first step in doing something about it by placing this vaccine distribution point here at this church,” CEO of the Heart of Florida Health Center, Jamie Ulmer said.

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, as of Jan. 19, 53,837 black individuals out of 1,066,107 total people have gotten vaccinated.

That’s why community leaders said the day’s event is so important. By holding a vaccine clinic like this at the Ocala church, it’s getting vaccines into the arms of the most vulnerable.

“As a community health center, it’s mission is to provide services for the under served and close those gaps in health care disparities and this is exactly our mission, so to be here this morning, providing vaccines to this black community is just, it’s what I live my life for. It’s what we do,” Ulmer added.

And being a faith leader, it’s an important job that many pastors in Ocala have taken on.

“They trust the pastors, they know that we’re concerned about the whole man, they believe that we’re going to do what’s best and what’s right for our community. We have to do more than just preach on Sunday morning. Making sure we’re dealing with social things, economic things. Definitely the faith, that’s the number one priority, but they need to see people that are credible who they believe and making sure that we are getting them access to the resources that are out there,” Rev. Eric Cummings of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church said.

Historically, there has been distrust with the health care system in the African American community, much in part due to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted between 1932 and 1972.

According to Tuskegee University, “The intent of the study was to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks…and was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”'

Mary Browning and her husband Leon were hesitant at first but ultimately decided to trust in the vaccine. They received their first dose on Wednesday.

“We felt like it was the right thing to do to go ahead on and take it. If you love your family and your friends, you will take the vaccination and you will do all of the precautions that the CDC recommends that we do,” Mary Browning said.

And it’s something that many are willing to do to protect themselves, their family, friends and the community.

Vaccine distribution clinics like this one will take place at four more churches in Marion County to make sure shots get into the arms of the most vulnerable.

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