Bars, colleges and workplaces are new front line for vaccinating young adults

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Palm Beach County is taking its most aggressive steps yet to get people vaccinated against COVID-19.

The county’s mobile vans will go to bars, college campuses and businesses to persuade holdouts — particularly young people — that they are critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools also remain a critical turning point, though it may be too late to send vans to high school graduations.

The plan is to concentrate on three areas, according to Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County:

  • Schoolchildren and their families.
  • The entertainment areas such as Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Lake Worth Beach and hard-to-reach communities.
  • Businesses or locations that are requesting it.

Younger people, specifically those ages 18 to 34, have been hesitant to get the vaccine despite currently producing the most COVID-19 cases.

Those are people who are “sitting on the fence or who are not quite motivated to do it yet,” Alonso said.

Palm Beach County has seen some encouraging signs in battling COVID-19 over the past two weeks, with the level of community spread dropping, Alonso said.

As of last week, the county recorded a 3.2% positivity rate for people tested for COVID-19. The virus is considered under control when positivity is below 5%.

The key to keeping that trend is increasing vaccinations across the board, Alonso told county commissioners Tuesday.

The Palm Beach County Health Care District recently held a vaccination event at Palm Beach State College and has discussed holding another event at Florida Atlantic University during orientation.

The county is relying on three mobile units to provide the bulk of the vaccinations. In April, health officials closed down their vaccination sites at the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach, South County Civic Center in Delray Beach and Burns Road Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens after demand for the vaccine waned.

So far, the mobile units have experienced mixed results in vaccinating younger people at bustling entertainment areas. In downtown West Palm Beach, the Health Care District provided 502 vaccinations from May 13-16. However, two weeks later, at Delray Beach and Lake Worth Beach, the district inoculated only 114 people.

Young adults have proved the hardest group to get vaccinated, said Dr. Belma Andrić, chief medical officer for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.

“They think even if they get the virus, it’s no big deal,” Andrić said.

In an attempt to combat the hesitancy, Alonso said the county is partnering with community groups throughout Palm Beach County since “people trust the community organizations they deal with.”

In terms of businesses, the mobile units reached a significant amount of restaurant workers in downtown West Palm Beach because they were able to quickly get the vaccine without taking too much time off work, Alonso said.

“Sometimes in the businesses we only have 40-50% vaccination rate and part of that is ‘Well, I’m busy. I can’t get out of work,’” she said. “So we’re encouraging businesses to allow people to get the vaccine if they need to and certainly it would be very easy if we go to them and vaccinate at their location.”

The county is still providing vaccinations at the Mid-County Senior Center at 3680 Lake Worth Road in Lake Worth Beach. The site is accepting walk-ins and appointments.

County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay suggested officials bring the mobile units to high school graduations, but Alonso said they’re not currently doing that and the decision is ultimately up the Palm Beach County School District.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said she would reach out to the district to discuss the idea. The graduation ceremonies, however, will be finished by next week. The school district began the first of its 32 ceremonies last week, and the final ones are scheduled for June 18.

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