Danielle Chin and three of her children arrived at a Miami middle school on Wednesday, intent on spending their day together with a singular purpose: to receive their first Covid-19 vaccinations.
“I wanted us to do it as a family, so I’m like, ‘You know what, this will be our family day today,’” she said.
Chin and her children were vaccinated at a mobile clinic run by the University of Miami, part of the latest efforts by health officials to vaccinate more Floridians before children return to school in the weeks ahead and infection rates rise any further.
Florida is facing a greater spread of Covid-19, with new cases roughly doubling in the last two weeks. And only about 47% of its population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Worried about the highly contagious Delta variant, health experts are pushing for continued testing and vaccinations, warning that more cases and deaths could be in the future if more precautions are not taken.
Young Americans are a particular focus for receiving vaccinations, as only a quarter of Americans ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, making them the age group with the lowest rate of vaccination according to CDC data.
“It’s extremely worrisome, especially as schools are re-opening fully in the fall,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We are going to be ramping up our efforts.”
Gwynn’s team runs several mobile vaccination clinics in South Florida, targeting underserved communities and teens. The units provide Covid-19 vaccines as well as others required for students to attend school.
Dr. Michael Maurer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami, was assisting at the mobile clinic on Wednesday. He said the goal of the clinics is to serve those with less access to vaccines, and noted the disproportional impact Covid-19 has had in more marginalized communities.
“I worry about our whole community,” Maurer said. “I worry about the toll that Covid continues to take on families, across not only our entire area here in Miami but across the entire country.”
‘We jumped the gun’
Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, said that a relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions has proved troublesome in the fight against the pandemic.
“We were heading in the right direction. People were getting their vaccines, people were continuing to be careful while they got their vaccines, but we jumped the gun,” Marty said, “because people who were unvaccinated were following what the CDC recommended for vaccinated people and mingling and commingling.
“That is part of the problem we have. We got to our mass gatherings to soon,” Marty said.
Miami’s Jackson Health System treated twice as many Covid-19 patients last weekend compared to earlier this month, many of whom were unvaccinated, a spokesperson told CNN. The hospital system also reports a surge in Covid-19 cases among people in their 30s and 40s.
With the rising number of cases in mind, local health officials are working faster with their inoculation outreach efforts. Schools are contacting parents and guardians, notifying them of the mobile clinics to receive their vaccinations.
Chin’s motivation to get herself and her teen children vaccinated, she said, was the arrival of the newest member of their family, Destiny, who was prematurely born and is in a newborn intensive care unit. With her departure from the hospital soon, lessening Destiny’s risk for contracting Covid-19 meant to Chin that everyone in the family needed the vaccine.
Getting everyone on board with vaccinations may be more difficult in some households, particularly among teens who could generally feel less incentive. Chin’s sons, Trayveon and Marqes, noted that they’ve seen online how some can be dissuaded from getting the vaccine.
Marqes said that social media can “show it off as like a bad thing, it’s going to have side effects and all that, but it’s supposed to help you. It’s designed to help you.”
“I recommend to everybody to just go do it,” Chin said. “I hope parents see how important it is to take their kids to go get vaccinated before school starts.”
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy
Many Americans are still in a wait-and-see mode regarding Covid-19 inoculations. Shermeka Hodge brought her 12-year-old son to the clinic to receive his needed school vaccinations yet did not sign up for a Covid-19 vaccine.
Hodge said she “wanted to wait a little because it’s kind of new and I just wanted to see how it was, effects on other people.”
Hodge said her daughter in her mid-20s will soon receive her vaccine, and Hodge wants to make sure that her daughter has no adverse reactions before she and others get theirs.
“I don’t have a problem with the vaccine. Some people do for whatever reason,” she said. “I just want to wait it out to see how it affects them, if it has side effects. I know everybody’s body is different, but still, I just want to see for myself.”
Personal advocacy is a powerful tool in the effort to get more people vaccinated, health officials say. On Thursday, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that talking with peers can help combat misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, particularly among younger adults.
“The trust that you have with your peers is absolutely essential. It’s very powerful,” Murthy told a panel at Stanford University.
“Remember, all of these conversations first start with listening … so try to understand where somebody is coming from, why they may be worried. It may not always be what you think,” he said.
Maurer, who told CNN at the mobile clinic that they sometimes vaccinate up to 100 people a day, said that as a pediatrician he listens to families’ concerns about vaccines and works to assuage any fears.
“My ultimate goal is to try to not necessarily convince them, but to encourage them very much so, to just make the decision for their family to get vaccinated against Covid-19,” Maurer said.
The awareness gained through personal interaction about vaccines was evident at the clinic later that day, as Chin was so pleased with how the vaccine process worked for her and her children, she left and returned with another vaccine recipient: her mother, 72.
Veronica Wright Chin was worried that the shot would hurt and was discouraged by hearing about people who got sick after being vaccinated. Yet with baby Destiny coming home, she decided to receive the vaccine.
“I wouldn’t like for, because of me, that she gets sick. So, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to come out,’” she said.
And she laughed when asked about overcoming her fear of needles, saying the injection didn’t hurt.
“I didn’t have to clench. I didn’t have to scream,” she said.
CNN’s Sarah Braner, Roxanne Garcia and Erica Henry contributed to this report.