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Tampa tries new 'boots-on the ground' strategy to battle COVID vaccine hesitancy

The goal is to remove any remaining reasons for vaccine hesitancy by making it as convenient as possible. No appointment needed. No travel. No cost.

TAMPA, Fla. — To battle vaccine hesitancy, Tampa Fire Rescue is teaming up with public health experts and volunteers from USF to make getting the COVID-19 shot as convenient as possible, going door to door to offer supplies and information that could be a lifesaver.

“This is the first one that we are actually attempting to do this boots-on-the-ground outreach with,” said Riley Tuff with Tampa Fire Rescue.

You could call it the next generation of vaccination.

Volunteers with USF’s Community Emergency Response Team brought word of COVID-19 vaccines directly to the Palmetto Beach neighborhood near Port Tampa Bay.

Working with the state, they’d set up a vaccine site in nearby DeSoto Park, which is walking distance away for most in the small community, and then went door to door letting people know they could come and get it.

“Someone being at your door and talking to you face-to-face leaves a better impact than just some digital messaging,” said Tuff.

The fire department also distributed bags filled with safety gear to help folks shelter in place in the event of a storm or industrial accident at nearby Port Tampa Bay.

The goal is to remove any remaining reasons for vaccine hesitancy by making it as convenient as possible. No appointment needed. No travel. No cost.

“Thank you for giving me this chance close to my house,” said Sara Barrientos shortly after getting vaccinated.

It was the difference-maker for Barrientos. She’d been a little scared, but this was just too convenient, she said, to pass up.

“Oh, I am very happy to have this opportunity for my vaccine,” she said.

In Ybor City, the state set up a similar vaccine pop-up on 7th Avenue at 16th Street. This one appeared to be squarely aimed at the vaccine-hesitant Gen-Z.

It’s the same idea. Convenience. As young people head out to party for weekend, bring the vaccine right to them.

“I had school to do. Not a lot of time to do it,” said Angel Martinez, who was getting vaccinated. “But now that I finish school and it’s right here. Easy. Easy to get it.”

By removing barriers like registration and transportation, organizers hope these mobile pop-up vaccine sites will provide the shot in the arm they need to address the vaccine hesitancy we’ve seen recently.

They’ll collect the numbers at these and other sites where the idea is being tried, and if the strategy is successful expect to see more of them.

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