NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Father José Rodríguez about his vaccine outreach in Orlando. Florida is among the states where demand for the coronavirus vaccine is down.


About 3 million Americans are getting their coronavirus vaccines daily. And that sounds like a lot, and it is, but across the U.S., vaccination rates are down by 11% this past week compared to a week before. Some counties are actually turning down vaccine shipments. The drop in demand has been especially stark in southern states like Florida. And this is creating a challenge for public health officials and advocates. How can they maintain vaccination rates and encourage those who are hesitant to get the shots? Because we are still nowhere near herd immunity.

Father José Rodríguez of Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret is facing that problem head on in his community, Azalea Park in Orlando. And he joins us now to talk about it. Hello.

RODRIGUEZ: Hi. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me what the situation is there right now. I mean, are people hesitant to get the shots?

RODRIGUEZ: Right now, people are hesitant to get the shot, but they always have been hesitant. Since this pandemic started, they’ve been behind the curve in terms of information hasn’t properly been flowing down in Spanish. Information wasn’t being communicated in a culturally competent manner. And then when the vaccine started, the disparities opened up between those who were getting vaccinated and those who weren’t.

We’re having an event. I’m a little bit nervous because this is a follow-up event for a Moderna, so it’s shot No. 2. And I’m praying that our concerns don’t become realized because at our previous event, people had told us they weren’t going to come to get their second shot of Moderna because of the Johnson & Johnson pause.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what I’m hearing you say is that basically this Johnson & Johnson pause, which had to do with a completely different vaccine, a very rare condition that had developed from women, mostly under 50, is affecting people getting the second shot of Moderna. What concerns are you hearing specifically? What are people telling you?

RODRIGUEZ: The concern isn’t anything scientific. The concern is that there are people on social media passing around misinformation, and the misinformation goes viral. It’s shared on WhatsApp. It’s shared on Facebook. It really just counteracts a public health message, and it really sows confusion. And it’s really scaring people to stay away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you telling people then? I mean, how are you communicating this message? I think it’s important for people to hear who also perhaps may be hesitant about the vaccine.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, we tell people – first we touch on the theme of yourself, taking care of your body. Hey, if you get sick, if you don’t protect yourself, who is going to become the breadwinner in your home if you’re not the one who’s bringing food to the table? And then we hit on family. The family theme is very important. Hey, if you get sick, you can get your family members sick. And between the theme of self and family and really connecting the pandemic to livelihood, it really reaches people. And from the perspective of faith, me, as a priest, I’m communicating to you that your Lord and savior, your God wants you to take care of you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If this vaccine hesitancy, it keeps going and people don’t want to get that second shot, what do you think needs to happen to push people to do this?

RODRIGUEZ: We need to bring the community together. That is going to be church, civic leaders, elected officials, community members, our families. And I remind our abuelitas and our mothers and our family members in the church, you know, before the pandemic, you were the first ones that said (speaking Spanish). You don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. So, you know, I remind them the government made a promise to us. Our public health officials made a promise to us. And they’ve kept that promise. They told us that they were not going to roll out these vaccines in a way that’s dangerous to the community. And the government is fulfilling its duty of care to us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being resumed. Do you think that will help assuage some of these fears? And will you be recommending that they take the vaccine?

RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yeah. I mean, any vaccine is a good vaccine. So I’ll be recommending the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But it is known that COVID itself causes blood clots. So, you know, you got more of a chance of getting a blood clot from COVID than you do the vaccine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Father Jose Rodriguez of Iglesia Episcopal Jesus de Nazaret in central Florida, thank you very much.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you so much.

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