In January, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a game-changing move in the state's early rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. After the first doses were given mainly to health care workers and nursing home residents, DeSantis announced that the state of Florida would partner with Publix Super Markets to distribute the vaccine to seniors. Any Florida resident over the age of 65 could go online to try to secure a vaccine appointment at a Publix pharmacy location and get vaccinated. But this wasn't the good news it seemed for all Floridians, including 31,000 residents in the Glades who lived 25 miles or more away from the nearest Publix.
Tammy Jackson-Moore, a community activist working to help get seniors in the Glades vaccinated, was stunned by the governor's decision. "I was shocked because I know that we don't have a Publix," she told 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. "I knew that this was not going to be good for this community."
This week,a rural area where the majority of the population is Black and Latino, and many live below the poverty line.
By March, 11 weeks into the frenzied vaccine rollout, more than half of seniors in the Glades had not been vaccinated. They either lacked the technology to set up an appointment—many residents, Jackson-Moore said, don't own a smartphone or a computer—or they couldn't get a ride. "We have a group of people that are transportation challenged," Jackson-Moore explained to 60 Minutes. Without access to a car, the only option was public transportation, a two-hour round trip by bus to the nearest Publix from the Glades.
Jackson-Moore sounded the alarm for help. "We got our mayors to write letters to the governor's office," Jackson-Moore said. "We went on a media blitz to just let people know that we don't want Publix to be the only game in town, especially when we don't have a Publix in our town." The mayors of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, Florida, wrote letters to the governor's office. Local media outlets reported on the problem.
However, the biggest boost to the Glades' vaccination effort came from a decorated athlete—former NFL wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin.
Anquan Boldin was born and raised in the Glades, playing football for Pahokee High School. After winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens and playing for other teams, he retired from the NFL in 2017. Boldin co-founded the Players Coalition, a nonprofit that seeks to address social justice and racial inequality. In the last year, the Players Coalition teamed up with the NFL to deliver $3 million to cities whose communities of color were deeply impacted by the pandemic. Boldin has continually provided support to the Glades community through The Anquan Boldin Foundation, with annual food drives, scholarships and education programs.
When Boldin learned that some residents in the Glades couldn't access vaccine sites, he wanted to help. The retired football player called Florida Secretary of the Lottery John Davis, a fellow Pahokee native and FSU football alum. "I got in contact with John and let him know the needs we had out in the Glades area. He connected me to some people at the governor's office and we got the ball rolling," Anquan Boldin told 60 Minutes Overtime.
About a week later, a vaccination site opened at a facility at a local high school—the Anquan Boldin Football Stadium. On opening day, Boldin says he met residents from all over the Glades who were thrilled to get the vaccine. "They were just excited [to have] the vaccination…a lot of people were excited," he said.
The Anquan Boldin Stadium is now providing vaccinations every Friday and Saturday. The eligibility age for vaccinations has been expanded to 40 years or older, and it will be further expanded to 18 years or older on April 5th.
Boldin says, in comparison to their wealthy neighbors in Palm Beach, the Glades are often neglected when it comes to resources, and the pandemic has brought that into sharper focus. "There are a lot of resources that the east coast gets that the Glades usually doesn't get," he explained. "Once COVID hit, it really shined a light on the disparities throughout the different communities."
Tammy Jackson-Moore thinks the Department of Health should be responsible for setting up vaccine sites, but she is deeply grateful for Boldin's help. And she doesn't mind speaking up for her community when she needs to. "We don't have a problem with speaking up when we see that there are things that our community needs, and for whatever the reason may be, they're not being addressed."
The video above was produced by Will Croxton and Jacquelyn DiNick. It was edited by Will Croxton.