More Floridians Are Getting COVID Vaccines Amid Surge In Cases
On a recent evening outside Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg, health workers with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County administered COVID vaccines during a community outreach event. A DJ bumped dance music as neighbors and church patrons socialized and munched on southern comfort food from a local food truck.
Rev. Clarence Williams took the mic to urge people to get their shots.
“Come and be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem,” he said.
Christian Davis, 18, took him up on the offer. He sat in a folding chair with a small band-aid on his upper arm after a nurse gave him his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Being young and healthy, Davis said he didn't think he needed the protection when COVID cases were going down.
“But now that they're going back up, I'm like alright, let me just keep myself safe and my family safe and friends around me safe and just get the vaccine,” he said.
Like Davis, more Floridians are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 after lagging rates earlier this summer contributed to the record surge in cases the state is experiencing now. But health experts say there's still a long way to go and it will be weeks before those who get their first shots now will reach peak immunity.
Florida's recent surge in cases also drove Courtney Poole, 39, to get vaccinated, and to have her teenage daughter do so too.
Poole said the new-ness of the vaccine made her hesitate, she wasn’t sure if it was safe.
"Because I didn't know enough about it and I was kind of nervous,” she said.
Then her kids had COVID scares at summer camp, and a family member recently tested positive for the virus. Most of Poole's other relatives have been vaccinated for a while and started laying on the pressure.
“When we get together they’re like, ‘Did you get the vaccine?’ and I'm like, ‘No, not yet...’ My mom was reluctant to even hug me, like when I sneeze she's like, ‘No, uh uh, put on a mask,’” Poole said with a laugh.
Only one of Poole’s kids is eligible to get vaccinated, the rest are too young. One reason she decided to ultimately get the shot was to protect them.
Florida's vaccination rates had slowed in June but things are picking up again as the highly contagious delta variant runs rampant across the state.
In the past four weeks, the average number of weekly vaccine doses administered in Florida rose by 57% from what it was during the previous four weeks, according to state numbers.
Epidemiologist Jason Salemi with the University of South Florida, who tracks the numbers on his own dashboard, said it’s a significant bump, but not enough.
“We have nearly 8 million people of vaccine eligible age in our state that are not yet fully vaccinated,” he said, adding that the figure includes hundreds of thousands of seniors.
Salemi said even if most of those people got shots tomorrow it would be weeks before they're fully protected.
He said the rise in vaccinations highlights the importance of educating people about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, and the importance of removing access barriers.
But with hospitals overwhelmed and infection rates likely far higher than what's reflected in testing, Salemi said those efforts alone won't get the state far.
“So encouraging vaccination, again, that's hugely important for our long-term strategy, but we've got to couple the encouragement of getting vaccinated with wearing a mask and social distancing, especially when we're in a public indoor setting, because that's the best way we can block transmission right now,” he said.
That's a tall order in Florida, where a large part of the community has long resisted masks and state leaders have vocally opposed requiring them, even making it illegal in many places.
Salemi acknowledges everyone is sick of living with COVID but it's the reality right now.
He said with vaccination rates rising and more people developing some form of infection-acquired immunity, Florida's numbers are bound to come down soon. But the more people act now, he said, the fewer will needlessly suffer and die.
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