Miami-Dade’s vaccination pace still slowing. Would pizza and a shot help?

·5 min read

With COVID-19 vaccines plentiful but vaccinations slowing, Miami-Dade County’s government has gone hunting for young people procrastinating on taking a shot.

Perhaps a shot of another kind would help.

The county’s recent launch of pop-up vaccination sites heads to Wynwood this weekend, with a promotion by the restaurant Gramps. Miami-Dade plans a Pfizer vaccination station next door to the restaurant on Saturday and Sunday, and Gramps will sweeten the offer with a free cocktail and slice of pizza for the newly inoculated.

“We’re at a place where we need to be nimble and creative,” said Rachel Johnson, communications director for Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Monica Diaz, 57, an employee at Royal Caribbean, registers to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Monica Diaz, 57, an employee at Royal Caribbean, registers to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

As hospital admissions for COVID-19 rise among working-age Floridians between the ages of 30 and 50, Miami-Dade officials are ramping up efforts to vaccinate young workers in the industries that make the local economy hum, such as travel and hospitality. But they will need a fresh approach.

Now that nearly one-third of Miami-Dade adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, public health experts say it’s time to move into the next phase of the inoculation campaign — away from mass vaccination sites and towards efforts that bring vaccines to people where they live and work.

When is the Gramps vaccination pop-up?

Miami Beach recently set up a vaccination site on the sands of South Beach. On Monday, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce is launching a vaccine incentive program offering coupons for free drinks and retail and restaurant discounts to anyone who gets vaccinated at a state-run vaccination site across from City Hall.

In Wynwood, the Gramps vaccination promotion (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 176 NW 24th St.) is the first county site aimed at a popular entertainment destination.

Miami-Dade launched its effort April 28 with a drive-up vaccination site at PortMiami, followed by a vaccination area inside Miami International Airport.

The local change in approach reflects a national trend of waning demand for the vaccine as the country has surpassed 250 million administered doses, including 16 million in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In South Florida, hospitals that just a few months ago saw appointment slots fill up within minutes of announcing them will soon stop providing vaccines.

The latest data from Florida shows that Miami-Dade is vaccinating people at a much slower pace than it was a month ago. Across Miami-Dade, about 21,000 doses were being administered on an average day this week, compared to 24,000 at the start of April. The peak was nearly 32,000 daily doses on April 12.

A healthcare worker registers a patient waiting to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
A healthcare worker registers a patient waiting to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

In Miami-Dade, more than 868,000 people have been fully vaccinated as of May 6, the CDC and Florida’s health department reported.

Still, in some neighborhoods residents haven’t been showing up for appointments or taking advantage of first-come-first-served sites. Those individuals may be harder to reach because they don’t have internet access to make an online appointment, lack transportation to get to a vaccination site or are working during the hours when shots are administered.

Miami-Dade vaccination outreach

To reach them, county officials are reallocating shots and developing new strategies. Miami-Dade has launched so-called VACS Now teams of outreach workers who target neighborhoods with low vaccination rates. The county has also provided donated Uber rides to county vaccination sites, scheduled appointments for house visits and taken out advertisements in Haitian Creole media.

The county vaccination site at Gramps this weekend is free, and appointments aren’t required. Johnson said Miami-Dade is also exploring pop-ups at malls, transit stations and near hotels and other businesses with large numbers of employees.

“If they can’t come to you,” said Eneida Roldan, a physician and chief executive of Florida International University’s healthcare service network, “you go to them.”

Andrew Garcia, an employee at Royal Caribbean, gets a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Andrew Garcia, an employee at Royal Caribbean, gets a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine at a county pop-up vaccination site at PortMiami Terminal A on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Roldan leads the campaign to vaccinate FIU’s 55,000 students, in addition to faculty, staff and, in some cases, members of their immediate households.

FIU started vaccinating people in February, she said, and has provided more than 10,000 doses through April. Roldan said FIU recently ramped up outreach with webinars featuring medical experts. The university, she said, also sends emails to students and staff with links to a website where they can sign up for a shot on campus.

Roldan, who is a past CEO of Miami-Dade’s public hospital, Jackson Health System, said public health officials need to amplify their message and communicate “in layman’s terms” the science and the shared goal behind the effort.

“This is not going to end anytime soon if we do not have the collaboration and the personal responsibility,” she said, “with collective action in mind that we all are in this together and that we all have to do our part.”

Mass vaccination efforts giving way to pop-ups

Now that demand for the vaccine has slowed and public health officials appear to have more supply available than arms to jab, the campaign needs to change direction: away from mass efforts and toward individuals who are harder to reach, said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and former adviser to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

“We have to concentrate right now on the last mile, meaning we need to get the vaccine to the community where it will be used,” said Osterholm, who is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We’re having to pivot to determine in our communities, who isn’t getting vaccinated.”

Public health officials will not reduce transmission of COVID-19, he said, until the vaccine reaches large segments of the population across “all risk areas — age, gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status,” he said.

“We have to meet people where they’re at,” he added. “Different messages with different information for different people who have challenges with the vaccine.”

Miami Herald staff writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.