TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A COVID-19 vaccine drive at a Tampa Bay area church aimed to do just one thing this weekend: get shots to the underserved. But the pastor says the mission failed and now wants another chance to help her congregation.
Florida has held pop-up vaccination drives at churches to reach minorities. While other events have been largely successful, hundreds were turned away from an event at Keeney Chapel United Methodist Church on Sunday. As a result, Pastor Valerie Goddard says most of her church is still not vaccinated.
For more than a century, Keeney Chapel United Methodist Church was a lively place. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, service has gone virtual, with members stuck at home and the building empty.
“To come back into a house of faith and worship together is vitally important and it’s life-giving,” Pastor Goddard said.
For Pastor Goddard, Sunday’s pop-up vaccination drive was critical for the church and the Palm River/Clair-mel neighborhoods.
She says the state told her 250 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be administered starting at 10 a.m., but that’s not what happened.
“When I pulled up at 8 o’clock, there were already 500 people on this property,” she said.
Pastor Goddard says the crowd wasn’t local.
“In fact, there were individuals, many of whom were from Orlando,” she added.
Online ads and social media rumors made many in the crowd believe the drive would be a free-for-all with shots doled out, despite Florida’s vaccine age requirement.
Cell phone video appears to show state leaders trying to send people who were ineligible home.
“I am the state rep here, I’m telling you, we are bound by the executive order,” a woman on one video said.
Investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi asked Pastor Goddard if people in her community were vaccinated Sunday.
“Very, very few,” she answered.
8 On Your Side has contacted the governor’s office, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the vendor to identify the source of the confusion.
More importantly, Pastor Goddard wants a redo.
“We would like to have at least the opportunity to redo this,” she explained. “Certainly our nation is resilient but we have to address inequity, we have to be able to stare at its face and call it what it is and we have to work in situations like this to make this wrong right.”
Florida is getting 42,000 additional doses of the Johnson vaccine this week.
8 On Your Side will stay on this to see if another drive can be placed in this neighborhood.