Polk faith-based vaccine drive targets rural, Black seniors


POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A longtime, trusted pastor in Lake Wales used his connections and clout in his rural community to vaccinate 600 residents Tuesday.

“We want to make sure everybody who needs a vaccine can get one,” said Rev. Joseph J. Pierce Sr. from First Institutional Missionary Baptist Church.

He contacted the Florida Department of Health in Polk County and nearly two dozen churches nearby to register seniors for the vaccine event at his church.

“Making it convenient for them,” he said. “So they don’t have to worry about trying to go through the computer and work through all of that and that long red-tape system, don’t know when they’re going to get a call, if they’re going to get a call.”

“I feel great. I didn’t feel a thing. No, it didn’t hurt,” said Tyrone Kirby, who lives in Lake Wales and got the Moderna vaccine Tuesday. “Just came up, they did a little paperwork and I got my shot and got my card to come back.”

Tyron Kirby getting vaccine

Rev. Pierce said a lot of seniors in his community weren’t computer-savvy and lacked the ability to travel to other vaccine sites.

“[Now] we’re not overlooked. I was beginning to think like, do you think they’re singling us out?” said Sandra Walker, who received the vaccine with her husband.

Rev. Pierce welcomed seniors of all races to his event but said it was important to get Black people vaccinated.

“They have such hard times in life, period. And then this disease on top of that, really complicates their lives,” said Rev. Pierce. “It is heart-wrenching. It’s heartbreaking. That’s one of the reasons to motivate me, to try to make a difference.”

According to the latest vaccine report from the Department of Health, just 5% of the 2.4 million people who received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Florida are Black.

“The Florida Department of Health in Polk County is working closely with faith-based organizations and places of worship to administer vaccinations to underserved communities across the county. The state is also working to prioritize vaccine access to underserved communities statewide,” wrote Dept. of Health in Polk County spokesperson Nicole Riley in a statement.

Rev. Pierce used his leadership position in his community to show others that the vaccine is safe.

“They felt more relieved because they say ‘Ok, that’s a church we know. That’s a pastor we know. That’s a person we know and he’s not going to tell us anything wrong’,” he said.

“I know Rev. Pierce and I know he’s a fighter and it’s only right that he got it here at his church. He’s a real leader and I kind of follow his cue a little bit,” said Pliney G. Walker, who received the vaccine Tuesday.

53,500 people have been vaccinated in Polk County, according to the Dept. of Health in Polk County.

Polk County is experiencing a delay in vaccine shipments due to winter weather in other areas of the country.

“These delays are unfortunate but unavoidable,” says Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County. “We ask for patience from those who are currently scheduled and those waiting to be scheduled as we work expeditiously to reschedule and rearrange appointments.”

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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