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 In an effort led by County Council Member Barb Girtman, in partnership with faith-based organizations, Volusia County has targeted vulnerable communities to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.

The numbers tell the story: Although Black communities make up around 11.5 percent of the population of Volusia County, and Hispanics 15 percent, members of those communities have received only about 3 percent of vaccinations so far, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

“These communities are two to three times more likely to have a severe case, and they are two times more likely to die from the virus,” Girtman told The Beacon, citing national data.

So far, there have been two vaccination events targeting Black and brown people on the east side of the county, and two on the west side, at Chisholm Community Center in DeLand. Another is planned in Pierson Friday, March 12.

Somewhere around a thousand people, age 65 and up, have taken advantage of the opportunity, Volusia County Emergency Management Administrator Yolanda Buckles said, including 468 in West Volusia. 

“On the Feb. 24 event, we vaccinated 259 individuals, and on the March 3 event, we vaccinated 209,” Buckles said, referring to the events at Chisholm Center.

The initiative registers individuals, not through an online system, but through a network of faith-based and community organizations, mirroring a statewide effort announced in February by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We started a faith-based initiative in the beginning of February, after the governor had recognized the need for bringing resources for the vaccine to underserved communities,” Girtman said. 

But the county didn’t wait for a specific allotment of vaccines from the state, Girtman said, instead jump-starting the program with doses already available.

“I’m proud of the county and the resources that they put into this,” Girtman said. 

Rolling out the effort through February and March has allowed coordinators to work through the at-times-more-difficult logistics. Instead of online registrations, names were collected from churches and community organizations, and by word-of-mouth. Buckles and her team then followed up, calling the people and organizing appointments.

Hesitancy and lack of access to computers are two of the challenges to overcome in delivering the vaccines to these communities, Girtman said. That’s one reason a faith-based initiative makes sense.

“We always go to the churches when it comes to Black and Hispanic community, because especially for something like this, you want to connect with trusted voices. And the trusted voices are known community advocates, and those within the faith-based community,” Girtman said.

Ultimately, the program will inform future efforts, as the county figures out how to reach communities in need and close the gap in vaccine distribution. 

“We really wanted to see and have an opportunity to work through some of the challenges and concerns that people had,” Girtman said.

“This is real, and it’s real, for some reason, to the Black and brown community. And we’ve got to get everybody to continue to still take the necessary precautions because it hasn’t gone away,” she added.

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