Tampa pharmacy working to get vaccines out to Black, minority communities

While the Greyhound Track and Raymond James Stadium are popular sites for the COVID-19 vaccine, they're not easily accessible for everyone. 

Often, Black and minority communities are overlooked, left without convenient options to get these life-saving doses.

A small Black female-owned pharmacy in East Tampa hopes to change that. This week, it got several hundred of its first Johnson and Johnson vaccines and they're already hard at work, getting them out into the community.

Martha Hall is now COVID-19 vaccinated. "One shot, one shot," Hall said, happily.

With one pinch of the J and J needle, she's ready to catch up on family time.

"I feel good, I feel better, I feel safer," Hall said.

It helps to get such an important shot at a place, and from a face, that you know and trust. As of this week, Health Matters Community Pharmacy at 1702 N 50th St. in Tampa can finally give out the vaccine.

"We've had a waiting list," said Health Matters owner Dr. Vondalyn Wright. "Some of our patients refused to go anywhere else because they wanted to come to their trusted healthcare professional to get it."

After months of waiting, the pharmacy got some help from State Representative Dianne Hart.

When could restrictions ease after COVID-19 vaccines become available to all adults?

With COVID-19 vaccines open to all Florida adults next week, public health experts explain what it means for easing pandemic restrictions.

"You have communities that can walk to the pharmacy that live right there so that was a major, major push to be able to get them that vaccine," said Rep. Hart. "The numbers clearly show you that black communities are not getting vaccinated at the same levels as other communities."

According to the Florida Department of Health, only 6% of those vaccinated so far are Black. While pop-up events get some shots into underserved, minority communities, a permanent location is a game-changer.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the logistics to get out, whether it's transportation, whether it's being so sick and shut-in they can't come out," said Erika Hall, an independent Licensed Nurse Practitioner who partnered with Health Matters. "Being able to come to them, meet them where they are is important."

Shots aren't just staying in the pharmacy. Tuesday night, they held two mobile events in the community. They're even planning to travel to people's homes to ensure that everyone who needs a shot, gets one.

"One patient who has a broken leg, he was so happy when he found out that we have the vaccination and I am able to go to his home and give him that vaccination," Wright said.

In communities where there is more skepticism and hesitation around the vaccine, Health Matters now plays a key role in building trust and saving lives.

"We have the information, we have the fact sheets, if you have any particular questions, we can answer those as well," Erika Hall said.

"I've had so many people say, I didn't even know you were here," Wright said. "I had one person today bring me back three customers and they signed up for the pharmacy as well."

"We've been giving vaccinations for years, so we are so happy now to be part of the solution," Wright said.

To make an appointment with Health Matters Community Pharmacy, you can call 813-800-6337 or visit https://healthmattersrx.com.

Tampa Bay Street Medicine provides healthcare to underserved communities

By van and by foot, medical students from the University of South Florida are providing health care to vulnerable populations across the area.