The first mass vaccination clinic in South Richmond is opening next Tuesday at Celebration Church on Midlothian Turnpike, a strip known for its Latino markets and taquerias.
Shots are by appointment only.
A mile from the location is George Wythe High School, whose 2020 fall enrollment is split nearly 50-50 between Black and Latino students. Nearly 1 in 6 residents in 23225, the church’s ZIP code, are Latino. More than 70% are Black.
The move is the latest in the Richmond and Henrico County health districts’ effort to vaccinate communities at the epicenter of the pandemic: Spanish-speaking Latinos, immigrants and Black residents.
As of Thursday, 1 in 3 vaccine recipients in Richmond have been Black or Latino. The groups are nearly 64% of the city’s COVID-19 cases and 81% of hospitalizations.
Three ZIP codes in South Richmond — 23234, 23225 and 23224 — were farthest from established vaccination sites at Richmond Raceway and the Arthur Ashe Center for months but have consistently represented nearly half of the city’s COVID-19 cases. They hold the largest nonwhite populations in Richmond.
“It’s a logical location,” said James Reid, a pastor at Celebration Church. “We just like serving the community. That’s where our heart is and what we do.”
The space is a 120,000-square-foot building with hundreds of parking spaces, which Reid said will help handle “whatever flow that we have.”
Amy Popovich, nurse manager for Richmond’s and Henrico’s health departments, said the clinic is starting with between 800 and 1,000 doses per week and will operate one day a week while they assess how many people can come through safely.
How much supply goes toward intentional events for high-risk communities and other populations is “a constant moving target” as officials evaluate which individuals remain on the preregistered list, Popovich said. The health districts receive a weekly allotment of about 12,000 vaccines.
Church leaders were “instrumental” in registering their congregation, conducting outreach and building trust among communities, Popovich said.
Through its 10-week Feed the Seniors program, Second Baptist was able to contact the church’s older residents.
“Pastor [Ralph Steven] Hodge and our 95-year-old church mother were the first to be vaccinated at our church,” said pastor Marc Jolley. “This set the stage for other seniors and baby boomers.”
As of March 6, Second Baptist had vaccinated 1,400 residents and is one of six community hubs that will operate in the localities throughout spring and summer. Another one in eastern Henrico will soon be announced.
In addition to people offering up their buildings, sites are determined by identifying ZIP codes with high COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates and using the Social Vulnerability Index tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But as local health districts — including Chesterfield and Chickahominy — begin vaccinating the rest of Phase 1b, community health workers are reporting a remaining hesitancy among Richmond-area Latinos.
Nationally, refusal remains highest among Republicans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Ninth District Councilman Michael Jones, who has repeatedly criticized the limited opportunities for vaccinations south of the James River, said Thursday that he has seen how making locations more accessible has helped quell confusion and concerns. And as with Second Baptist Church, seeing fellow community members get vaccinated could curb misinformation, Jones added.
“They saw different leaders in their community doing it. You had local faith leaders, African American faith leaders, calling around, making it accessible,” Jones said. “So this is the perfect location to reach the Latinx community, and it’s the right thing to do.”
But the outreach has to continue, he said.
Jones said that while visiting Abuelita’s on Midlothian Turnpike, a 3-minute drive from Celebration Church, owner Karina Benavides said she and her staff have registered for vaccinations and are awaiting sign-ups.
Richmond and Henrico have included restaurant workers in Phase 1b. The state has not.
Popovich said that in Richmond and Henrico, outreach efforts have included hiring more community health workers and building on partnerships with Oscar Contreras at Radio Poder, a Spanish radio station; Karla Ramos, manager at Richmond’s Office of Multicultural Affairs; and Tanya Gonzalez, executive director at Sacred Heart Center.
Last week, GRTC announced that the transit system will ensure that transportation to vaccination sites will not be an issue and will provide on-demand rides made possible with CARES Act funding. Community health workers or someone at the major sites will help connect residents to book the service if needed.
As of Thursday, more than 20% of Richmond and Henrico’s population had received a first dose. Statewide, the percentage was about 22.2%, and nearly 3 million Virginians have been vaccinated.