Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Jamaicans set up COVID vaccination clinic in Florida

Published:Sunday | August 8, 2021 | 12:08 AMKaryl Walker - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Retired clinician Dr Gerda Williams runs an outpost at a park in Miramar, South Florida, where members of the public can walk in and get the COVID-19 vaccination.
Retired clinician Dr Gerda Williams runs an outpost at a park in Miramar, South Florida, where members of the public can walk in and get the COVID-19 vaccination.

A group of Jamaican healthcare workers have been doing their part in the COVID-19 fight by setting up an outpost at a park in Miramar, South Florida, where members of the public can walk in and get the anti-COVID vaccination.

The initiative is the continuation of the non-profit organisation Health Economic Resource Services (HERS) Beyond COVID Testing Program, which is spearheaded by retired clinician Dr Gerda Williams, who implemented the programme with the aim of targeting minority communities in Broward County, where thousands of Jamaican and Caribbean immigrants reside.

“The programme was focused on education regarding healthy lifestyle, recognising the signs and symptoms of COVID and a wellness approach to boost immune response by increasing understanding of the importance of vitamins and nutrition,” Williams told The Sunday Gleaner, explaining that in order for a vaccination clinic to be set up, permission must be granted by the Florida Department of Health, and the organiser must be a medical provider with prescriptive authority.

Williams, along with fellow Jamaicans psychiatric practitioner Gayon Dunn, Alcene Williams, Marlin Gordon, and Oliver Davis have been working since the onset of the pandemic to bring awareness to the disillusioned about the benefits of being vaccinated.

Even though thousands of persons have been vaccinated at the Miramar outpost so far, Williams said much more needs to be done.

“The response has not been as robust as was expected as it should have been. The work has been more of an educational process as major barriers to vaccination include health misinformation, religious beliefs, and overall mistrust of the health system,” she said.

Apart from administering the vaccine, HERS also conducts COVID-19 antibody screening, blood pressure testing, mental health testing, blood drives, and distributes food care packages.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus has seen a sharp rise in infections, and Williams is urging persons who were wary of being vaccinated to shed their fears and do their part to assist in beating back the pandemic.

“Research has clearly shown that the authorised COVID-19 vaccines are both efficacious and effective in reducing transmission of the disease and reducing the severity of the symptoms should a vaccinated person become infected,” she said.

“We provide information on the benefits of the vaccine, including information on individuals contracting COVID-19 becoming seriously ill, dying, or left with long-term chronic complications. Additional benefits of the vaccines are protection of family, friends, and community. We also highlight the impact of the human and financial toll COVID-19 has on the society.”

ALL VOLUNTARY

The work done by HERS is all voluntary as the organisation is not funded by government or any private entity.

“Life has been a sweet roller-coaster ride serving the community, mentoring new clinicians, and working with individuals to empower them to overcome some of life’s major challenges,” said the founder.

Williams was born in Edgeware, Manchester, in Jamaica and migrated to New York after graduating from Manchester High School. She attended the Queensborough Community College before enrolling in nursing school at Stony Brook University, where she earned a master’s degree in nursing. She also holds a doctoral degree.

Dunn was also born in Jamaica, in Montego Bay, St James. She enrolled at the Cornwall School of Nursing in Montego Bay before migrating to the United States in 1982, where she worked in major health systems in New York and Florida. She holds a master’s in nursing from Florida International University and is a licensed independent psychiatric practitioner who owns an assisted living facility in the depressed community of Liberty City in Miami.

“It’s all about service. When you become a nurse you don’t do it for money. We love serving the community and would have it no other way,” Williams stated.

editorial@gleanerjm.com