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If People Can't Get To Vaccination Sites, Miami-Dade Works To Bring COVID-19 Vaccines To Them

Members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity hold signs encouraging vaccination
Verónica Zaragovia
Xavier Mackey, Cyrus Clark III and Sean Bryant came out with other members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity to get others to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at Brentwood Park in Miami Gardens on May 8, 2021.

Passengers in his taxi kept asking Tony Brutus the same question: Are you vaccinated?

"Have you taken the shot yet? But I’m always [embarrassed] to say no," said Brutus, who worried that they’d feel scared to ride in his taxi.

"One customer from New York told me that every taxi driver in New York has taken the vaccine already," he said. "So that means that we were behind in Miami, in Florida."

Verónica Zaragovia
A line of people who drive taxis at Miami International Airport formed to get a COVID-19 vaccine on May 10, 2021.

Brutus says he’d been trying to get the vaccine for a while. Then, on May 10, 2021, all he had to do was show up to work at Miami International Airport.

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"I just parked my taxi and I just walk and get the shot," Brutus said, and afterwards, he was beaming. He couldn’t wait to attach the CDC's COVID-19 vaccine card to his ID in his taxi.

What's more, he could finally go back to his dominos game with the other vaccinated taxi drivers. If you're not vaccinated, the group's rules are strict — you can't join the dominos table.

Verónica Zaragovia
Tony Brutus, left, got vaccinated at the taxi parking lot at Miami International Airport on May 10, 2021, which allowed him to go play dominos with other vaccinated drivers.

Inside the airport, people were rushing to their flights. Upstairs, inside an auditorium above departures, anyone who works at MIA could get vaccinated. Certain travelers also qualified.

"I'm happy to protect myself and the people around me," Luis Ochoa said in Spanish. He works as part of the cabin crews that clean airplanes.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava stood at a podium, a few feet away.

"It’s pop up, pop up," she said about where the county is focusing its efforts. "Wherever people are that’s where we will be to make sure that no one has an excuse to not take the shot."

More than 16,700,000 shots have gone into arms and Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of South Florida, points out that that's impressive. The problem is that not enough people — especially younger people — are coming out to get their first doses now.

Verónica Zaragovia
Luís Ochoa gets his first Pfizer vaccine dose on May 10, 2021 at Miami International Airport. Ochoa works as part of cabin crews that clean airplanes.

"Second doses have stayed pretty consistent and the number that we've been given each day, the first doses have come down a lot," Salemi said. He says Florida needs a lot more people to get their shots.

"I've talked to a number of different counties. The supply is there. We're ready to administer shots to people who want it. So for me, this is a demand issue," Salemi added. "Why it's important for everybody to come out and get vaccinated is that the vaccines have already made such a big difference. If we look at cases, cases are down 34% in the past month alone. So it just ultimately begs the question, since it's a demand issue, how do we increase demand? I think we need to continue to break down barriers."

Reducing barriers to vaccines is key, added Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Florida. She said Florida needs to figure out how to motivate people, and make it easy to get the vaccine.

"I would compare this to someone who is maybe trying to start an exercise routine," she said. "You’ve gotta remove those barriers. So if you've got someone who's trying to go to the gym, some people will say, well, you know, wear your gym clothes to make it easy in the morning to go and do that exercise. I almost look at some of this hesitancy in the same way. It's not that people won't do it, but if it's too far to drive or if it's not a convenient place or not a convenient time, that's going to hold people back from getting the vaccine. So it needs to be made as easy as possible for some folks to help them overcome that last little bit of hesitancy."

Take Angel Sánchez. He just hadn’t had a chance to look for a vaccine site, he said. Sanchez, a busy single dad, works in construction.

Verónica Zaragovia
Vaccinations took place on the sand in Miami Beach on May 2, 2021.

"I had the luck now of coming to the beach and so then I could get vaccinated," Sanchez said in Spanish. He and his two sons had come out to Miami Beach, where the city was offering Johnson & Johnson shots right on the sand.

"Now I'm relieved because they're here with me, so of course I had to take advantage of the opportunity, right? I feel happy because of that," he said.

Vaccination rates for Hispanic Floridians are far behind those for white residents. Even further behind is the vaccination rate for Black people. Of the total number of people vaccinated in Florida, which is more than 9,750,000 people, 7% are Black, while two-thirds are white.

On May 8, 2021, at Brentwood Park in Miami Gardens, members of the Divine Nine — the nine Black fraternities and sororities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council — were recruiting people to get a shot and serving lunch. The site at this park always has Black nurses and a Black doctor present.

State Rep. Christopher Benjamin was there in his purple Omega Psi Phi shirt to tell people that the vaccines are safe.

"We want to show folks that we’ll lead the way, we’ll lead by example and hopefully they’ll follow," Benjamin said.

Now that young people 12 to 15 years old are eligible for vaccines, epidemiologists say that will help boost Florida’s rates.

Miami-Dade County is offering shots at high schools. People who work at PortMiami can bring their kids to get vaccinated there and the University of Miami has a mobile pediatric unit heading to areas like Homestead, Hialeah and Doral.