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Duval lags in COVID vaccinations as reluctant residents hold out

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CHRIS O'MEARA / ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Gov. Ron DeSantis observes the first shipment of Pfizer vaccinations as it arrives in Florida in December 2020.

Duval County continues to lag behind the state's rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, as local organizations rally to push the number higher.

As of Oct. 21, the state's last report, 63% of eligible Duval County residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 73% statewide.

To match the state's number, Duval would need approximately 85,000 unvaccinated residents to get shots. More than 530,000 residents have been vaccinated so far, but over the last few weeks, less than 3,000 a week have opted for vaccines.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed fierce resistance to vaccination mandates, both federal and local, leading private and community organizations to lead the push to persuade vaccine-reluctant — or vaccine-hostile— residents.

The Get The Facts Jax campaign is aimed at combating misinformation and encouraging vaccinated residents to engage their co-workers, friends and family.

The initiative is a collaboration of the Jacksonville Civic Council, a group of businesses and community leaders, and health care organizations like Ascension St. Vincent's Hospital and Florida Blue.

Jeanne Miller, president of the Civic Council, said, "It's taking time. We're seeing the positivity rate decline, which is a great thing, but we don't want to release our pedal from the metal quite yet."

The campaign started in July during a week when the county had more than 8,000 new cases of COVID-19. In the nearly three months since , the vaccination rate in Duval for residents 12 and up has moved from 50% to 63%.

WJCT News' Coronavirus Texting Service contacted thousands of Jacksonville residents and gathered their questions about COVID vaccines. Some who said they had decided not to get the vaccine pointed to debunked myths or misinformation. At least one requested help getting transportation to a pharmacy.

But holdouts persist, even as more than 408 million doses have been administered in the U.S., and multiple studies confirm the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.

Some residents who described themselves as supporters of DeSantis and former President Donald Trump still expressed opposition to the vaccine after learning Trump, DeSantis and their families had been vaccinated.

Some felt less inclined to receive the vaccine after learning about mandates.

Miller said businesses that are a part of the Civic Council have found some success with employee incentives for vaccination alongside mandates. She said, personal conversations between people who already know each other has been a successful part of the group's campaign strategy.

"That's what we found, person to person, individual to individual, that's how you change hearts," Miller said. "We just encourage everyone, if you have had the vaccine and you know someone who has not, please encourage them."

"Tell them what their life means to you... the bottom line is that it will save your life, not always, but in most cases it will save your life, and that's what our goal here is."