Firefighters, faith leaders team up to vaccinate vulnerable

Friday, March 12, 2021

MIAMI BEACH (AP) — At the end of a recent Sunday evening Spanish-language Mass, the Rev. Roberto Cid made an announcement that perked up many gray-haired heads.

“If you are over 65 and a Florida resident and want a COVID vaccine, call the parish office and we can help you,” the Roman Catholic priest said, as happy nodding spread through the pews of historic St. Patrick church.

In much of the country, getting the coveted vaccine has been tremendously difficult for many older adults due to complicated and overtaxed websites and bureaucracies — and even more so for those who have disabilities, are homebound or have no family to help.

But in Miami Beach, faith leaders and the fire department have joined resources to expedite getting shots in the arms of older adults starting with the homebound and those in low-income housing, winning plaudits from both the newly vaccinated and their relieved relatives.

Through late February the initiative was responsible for delivering 5,466 shots in the city, where a relatively high 17% of its 92,000 residents are 65 and over, including hundreds of Holocaust survivors. That’s on top of other vaccinations being arranged by hospitals and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, in the area.

“We’re not responding with lights and sirens, but we are responding to a need in the community,” Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez said.

The initiative began to take shape well before vaccines were even available. Early last fall, Division Chief Digna Abello started pushing for the fire department to rent a freezer that could store the Pfizer vaccine at the required ultra-cold temperatures, on the assumption that it would be approved and the department’s 200 firefighters, all trained paramedics, could help distribute it.

The program is now up and running since January. Each day, amid a mountain of neatly organized paperwork in her office at the fire station, she manually keys into the state database each vaccine delivered by the firefighters and the nurses that now accompany them, using a data entry system she created.

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