MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Some pastors in Marion County started a partnership with a local NAACP chapter and the county’s health department to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to minorities in the area.
There have been three separate events across the county vaccinating about 800 people and it was all through word of mouth.
The latest event was held Wednesday at Greater New Hope church in Ocala. Bishop James Stockton III said he and other pastors at historically black churches throughout the county have noticed many members of their congregation weren’t vaccinated.
Lizzie Lennon is a former nurse practitioner and the health chair of the NAACP in Marion County. She said accessibility is an issue for many minorities living throughout the county.
“They don’t get the information, or it’s not available to them. I know they don’t have access to the internet, so they’re not getting the shots,” Lenon said.
She said this partnership is so important.
“When we heard the vaccines weren’t getting into these communities, the NAACP, pastors, fraternities and sororities, we start networking and creating our own list, then talking to the powers that be. Letting them know we have a list of people that couldn’t get into Publix or the original health department registration,” Stockton said.
Through this new partnership, the county’s health department has been able to supply vaccines, getting about 800 people vaccinated at three different events throughout the county. Most of them African American.
“It’s exciting to tell them ‘you don’t have to fight to get into a Publix or Walmart or sit at the health department or Heart of Florida. All of those places are doing phenomenal jobs, but you can also get vaccinated at your place of worship amongst your brothers and sisters,” Stockton said.
The race to get an appointment online is a common complaint for seniors in Marion County.
“Are you kidding, sitting there at 5 o’clock every morning waiting for the phone to pull up the website. I never get through. And when I do, by the time I put in all of my information, there are no appointments left,” Jean Schilf said.
Schilf said she was able to get an appointment for the event at the church through a friend who knew the pastor and passed on her information.
Transportation was also provided for some community members who needed it, free of charge.
“I want to encourage everyone: white, black, red, yellow, let’s get vaccinated. We need to get back to some sense of normalcy,” Stockton said.
The next vaccination event will be held in Reddick in March. For more information on how you can get on the waiting list, contact Greater New Hope Church at (352) 687-1130 or the Marion County chapter of NAACP at (352) 351-4560.