Is that a vaccine bus in Miami? Mobile unit goes on tour to help protect kids from COVID

A Haitian woman in a blue head wrap and floral print dress approached Maria Ferraris seeking a COVID-19 vaccine. But Ferraris couldn’t understand her. Shrugging, she said: “No English? OK, that’s fine,” and found someone nearby to translate to Haitian Creole.

The woman then boarded a white bus parked behind the Center for Haitian Studies and got vaccinated. Ferraris says this is common and helps people who can’t write or read English register for a vaccine regardless of insurance or immigration status.

“It’s hard sometimes. The kids are the ones translating for us,” she said.

As the project manager at the University of Miami’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic, Ferraris and her medical colleagues travel throughout Miami-Dade County — Homestead, Doral and Little Haiti — to help underserved communities. They want to lift barriers for people who have trouble getting vaccinated due to language, immigration status, disability and lack of access to healthcare.

On Tuesday, the vaccine bus made a stop in Little Haiti to help a population that doesn’t get vaccinated at the same rate as others. According to an el Nuevo Herald report with data from Miami-Dade County and the U.S. Census, Central American and Haitian immigrants in some areas of the county have vaccination rates of 41% and 32.5%, respectively. That compares with a more than 55% vaccination rate countywide.

In response to the disparities, the University of Miami Health System decided to roll out its UHealth pediatric mobile unit to offer vaccines. The program has been vaccinating people 18 and older for about two months, but just started giving shots to kids 12 and older, said Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician and director of the UHealth pediatric mobile clinic.

With about half a million dollars in funding from the Florida Department of Health, the program began its tour on Friday in Homestead. On Monday, the bus visited the Visitation Catholic Church in Miami, and will continue to stop at other locations for the rest of the week, Gwynn said.

On Tuesday, the program’s white bus stopped at the Center for Haitian Studies, where it visits the same day every week. The UM unit vaccinated about 40 people from 9 a.m. to noon. But only three of those were 16 or under.

Delores Fye, a nurse, said she often helps children through their worries. With a light, airy voice, she asks them to not tense their muscles to help with potential pain.

“Mostly they’re afraid to ask if it’s gonna hurt. I just try and calm them and give them a few tips,” Fye said.

Working with the UM program, she said families tell her how grateful and excited they are to get the vaccine. Often language barriers aren’t a huge problem. Her fellow nurse can help translate Spanish.

Jenna Ramkhelawan, 12, left, gives a thumbs up along with UM Health LPN Delores Fye, after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Jenna received her vaccine at a pop-up site run by UHealth’s pediatric mobile unit in an effort to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underprivileged children and parents. The pop-up site was at the Center for Haitian Studies in Little Haiti on Tuesday.

Bibi Ramkhelawan, a 49-year-old mother from Pembroke Pines, brought her 12-year-old daughter to get vaccinated Tuesday morning. In April, the mother and her two eldest children, 23 and 19, received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the same location. Her husband got the Pfizer vaccine earlier elsewhere.

Following a 9:45 a.m. appointment for the Pfizer vaccine at the Center for Haitian Studies, mom and daughter drove to Chili’s to celebrate with salad, steak and fries with bacon bits, linguine with shrimp and a molten chocolate cake before Jenny returned to school online and changed from a T-shirt and tights to a school uniform.

Ramkhelawan said Jenny wanted a vaccine after she saw friends she missed during testing last week at Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines. Relieved, the mother said the family breezed through the vaccine appointments without much of a wait or any side effects.

Seated on red and blue chairs after getting his first dose, 20-year-old Jaedan Issa said his father had a hard time finding vaccination sites that weren’t booked. The Atlantis Academy Miami student said while he was initially nervous about pain from the shot, he was relieved to get a dose.

With two doughnuts in his hands, the student smiled and said he’d like to return in a few weeks for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“It’s almost like a party bus,” he said.


What: The UM mobile program will continue through Saturday and plans to continue its tour through the summer. About 12 children are already registered for May 21.

Appointments: Call 305-243-6407. Walk-ins are also accepted.

Hours: Vaccine distribution is Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, May 19, 21 and 22, from 9 a.m. to noon. The bus is also at the Center for Haitian Studies in Little Haiti every Tuesday.


Wednesday at Air Base K-8 Center for International Education, 12829 SW 272nd St., Homestead

Friday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, 11691 NW 25th St., Doral

Saturday at Little Havana Health Fair and Vaccinations (Next to Jose Marti Park), 434 SW Third Ave., Miami