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Florida still seeing vaccine divide as national leaders push greater participation

'Knock on doors, try to educate people,' DEM Director Kevin Guthrie says
Posted at 1:52 PM, Jun 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-05 13:52:38-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida still has a vaccine divide.

As the nation strives to get 70 percent of adults with at least one shot by July 4, the Sunshine State has continued to see a disparity between white and Black populations.

The latest data, compiled by comparing census numbers and DOH vaccine reports (through June 2), showed about 7 percent of those receiving a dose have been Black, despite making up 16 percent of the population. Only about 22 percent of all African Americans in the state were vaccinated. Whites were nearly double that figure.

Florida's new Emergency Management Director said recently that fighting vaccine hesitancy is a top goal for him. He took over the role in May after serving as second in command under the previous director, Jared Moskowitz.

Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie lays out plans to get more residents vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Educating against vaccine hesitancy, right? So, that's my goal and that's my job," said Director Kevin Guthrie. "I think that's what I could do more than anything else."

For months the state has partnered with churches and opened minority-focused vaccine sites to help ease the disproportionate numbers. The next big step, Guthrie said, has been knocking on doors.

"Almost 1.1 million doors in the last 45 or so days -- to do nothing but that," Guthrie said. "Knock on doors, try to educate people, try to encourage people to go take the vaccine and knock that vaccine hesitancy down."

However, that alone may not balance inequities. White House officials believe grassroots efforts will continue to be vital to success.

Black woman receiving COVID-19 vaccine
Figures show that only 22 percent of all African Americans in Florida have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said enlisting Black leaders to encourage participation remained key.

"We've known for some time now is that the most effective messengers about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines are local leaders," Munoz said.

President Joe Biden's latest initiative to boost vaccinations in June includes bringing shots to minority salons and barbershops. Munoz was hopeful the effort would have an impact.

"It was really important for us to tap into this network of trusted leaders and make sure that they're leading this effort," he said. "They are the ones that are going to make the impact in this push."

Florida is not alone in its shot disparity.

Most states in the nation have seen similar rates among minorities. Experts said this is a national issue that requires continued focus heading into the summer.