Booker T. Washington Community Center taking the lead in Enid with vaccine clinic, future programs

·7 min read

May 9—Valerie Toombs Glover said receiving her COVID-19 vaccination at a mobile clinic she'd had the idea for was a "dream come true" on Saturday.

Glover was the first of three to get the vaccine at Enid's Booker T. Washington Community Center, having come with her daughter and her 16-year-old granddaughter, Ania Johnson, who also got her vaccine to support her grandma.

Glover said a vision had "dropped in (her) spirit" to have the vaccine clinics at Booker T.

In January, her 86-year-old father died of complications from COVID, having apparently contracted the virus the week of Christmas while out gift-shopping, after almost a year of staying inside.

Glover's sister, a pharmaceutical rep, told her if they had waited another month until the vaccine became more widely available, he would've survived.

"I think unconsciously, that was the push that I needed ... to get everybody vaccinated that I could, to make it available," Glover said. "I think that was the turning point."

Despite Saturday's low turnout, leaders of the longtime community center in Enid's predominantly Black neighborhood said they weren't discouraged, instead thinking of the Garfield County Health Department's mobile clinic as a springboard for further events and programs at Booker T.

Center Director Clifford Porter said he hadn't pictured shots being given in the center until Glover, his cousin, came to him with the idea.

Yvonne Lewis-Odom, president of Booker T.'s board of directors, called Saturday a good "trial run" in efforts to further vaccinate the Enid community.

"It's a thumbs up," she said. "You've got to start somewhere, and we're starting."

Ahead of the state's curve

Maggie Jackson, with the county Health Department, said the low attendance has been on par with the department's recent mobile vaccination clinics, during which staff and volunteers go to sites outside of their office at 905 Failing.

Only three people decided to get vaccinated when the Health Department held a mobile event at Our Daily Bread in Enid earlier this week, too, Jackson said.

Mobile events had been exclusively using the Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine, but due to the recent (now ended) pause on the vaccine that swelled further skepticism, the department also provided the two-dose Pfizer shot on Saturday.

"I think we're really at a point where people aren't seeking it out," Jackson said, attributing this to either lack of access or motivation.

"There's a lot of people who are in this 'wait-and-see' mode," clinic volunteer Janet Cordell added.

But Jackson then checked the total racial demographic breakdown for Garfield County's 15 ZIP codes on her laptop.

Compared with the entire state, Black people in Enid and Garfield County appear to be far ahead of the curve in getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Over half of Garfield County's Black residents 16 and older — 50.5% — have received the prime dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data on immunizations as of April 18, the state's most recently available with racial demographic breakdowns.

Nearly a third of the county's Black residents have completed the series — either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or Johnson & Johnson's Janssen single-dose.

Porter said many of the people he called Saturday said they wished they could attend, but they'd already been vaccinated.

"I like that number for Garfield County. That's a good number," Porter, who is Black, said after the clinic.

Jackson said all vaccine providers report immunizations to the state Department of Health except for the U.S. Indian Health Services, which is set to report them later.

Just The Facts

Over half of Garfield County's Black residents 16 and older have received the prime dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just over a fifth of Oklahoma's 16-plus Black population have received their first dose.

Meanwhile, just over a fifth of Oklahoma's 16-plus Black population had received their prime dose, while 16% had completed the series, according to the state epidemiologist's report from April 11-17.

Most recent data from May 1-7 now puts those figures at 22.8% and 19.1%, respectively.

As of May 3, 35% of all Garfield County residents 16 and older have received their first dose. Those who have completed the series is closer to the county's Black population, at 30.2%.

Jackson said a disparity in health outcomes exists between Black and white people with COVID-19, while fewer Black than white people nationwide have been getting vaccinated.

Health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci and those with the CDC say "herd immunity," or indirect protection from the coronavirus, will only be reached once 70% of the entire nation's population are fully vaccinated.

Herd immunity was achieved during previous pandemics like smallpox, which has been nearly eradicated since the 1970s. Otherwise preventable diseases with vaccines like measles have returned as a result of either strain immunity or controversies about vaccinations.

Lewis-Odom quote

By putting forth the idea of organizing COVID-19 vaccination drives, Glover said she was picking back up the vision of her mother and grandmother, Jonetta Fitzpatrick and Herbaline Laster, who helped revitalize Booker T. in the 1970s as it opened as a community center.

"And you see the results," Glover said in the building that was once the Black student-only Booker T. Washington High School before integration forced it to close.

Porter and Lewis-Odom both said they're planning for the center to hold more events with the Health Department and community clinics later this year, such as a Fourth of July clinic and a back-to-school immunization and physical drive which would double as a family carnival and enrollment in other HD programs.

"But we now have to reach out to those people who don't feel like they need to get vaccinated," Lewis-Odom said. "Which is fine, but my concern is that you influence somebody else who probably really should be getting vaccinated and they're not."

During the height of the COVID pandemic last year, Lewis-Odom saw more and more Enid families unprepared for legal dilemmas as a result of the virus.

COVID patients would enter the hospital, and some would be unable to communicate with their families about things like power of attorney, life insurance policies, rent or mortgage payments, funeral expenses or childcare responsibilities.

Lewis-Odom said the center would start providing resources to people facing these hurdles.

"I think ... the idea of Booker T. Washington Community Center got away from that, and they saw it just as an after-school program," she said. "So now I want to bring (the center) back and say, 'No we're not just an after-school program.'"

This fall, the center also is set to begin a seniors' program using $12,000 in funds allocated from the city of Enid's Community Development Block Grant program.

Porter said the room that was initially an area for seniors — where Saturday's vaccine clinic was held — would be converted to an area for his brother to begin salon training classes, while a long hallway and Wheatheart Nutrition's old cooking kitchen would be renovated with CDBG funds.

He said the center would also be coordinating its youth program with nearby Zoë Life Church of Enid.

Porter also said during a CDBG public input funding hearing that the floors would be redone with help from Eagle Scout volunteers.

Another $40,000 in CDBG funding is anticipated for the center's after-school program, once city commissioners approve the committee's annual funding recommendations.

"For me, this COVID thing is the beginning to bringing the (Enid) community in as a whole to work together to do better as a community," Lewis-Odom said. "I realized that during the COVID time when everybody was stuck in the house. So it was a bad in a way, but it then was a good sign to say, 'It takes a village, and our village is separated right now.' So we need to bring everybody back so the village can work."

Ewald is copy editor and city/education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

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