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Church helps Osceola Health Department distribute COVID-19 vaccine

The Agency for Healthcare Administration instructed 27 Florida hospitals to reserve the new batch of 28,500 vaccines for patients under 65 years of age who suffer from life-threatening underlying health conditions and comorbidities - such as cancer patients, transplant patients, and adults with Down Syndrome.

COVID-19 vaccination efforts are not just about government response; it is taking entire communities coming together to get results.

The Osceola County Health Department has moved its main vaccination site to a Spanish-speaking church in Kissimmee, Centro Cristiano Dios de Pactos Florida, on Simmons Road.

Spokesperson Jeremy Lanier said the move was motivated by the church’s large space, which made sense for mass vaccination logistics – things like location, ample parking and a big lot were the decisive factors.

“We chose this site because of its proximity to Kissimmee and St. Cloud,” Lanier said. “It has ample space. It was perfect from a logistics perspective.”

The church was used before by the Health Department as a testing center. Pastor Walter Arias, founder and director of Centro Cristiano Dios de Pactos Florida, said he thinks the Health Department also chose the church for vaccinations because things went so well the last time they offered their space.

The church was established in its current location about three years ago, the pastor said, with the sole intention of serving the community the best it could. Arias said the church staff feels glad to be fulfilling their mission, particularly during these trying times.

“This is a blessing for us as a church because we prayed for our building to be a blessing for the city,” Arias said. “We want to help the community. It is a privilege. We are doing this from the bottom of our heart.”

Vaccinations are by appointment only but are all booked up, Lanier said. The county received 2,900 allocations of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 18 and put out a registration form on their website. However, appointments filled so quickly, they had to take it down on Wednesday.

“We received a tremendous response,” Lanier said. “We have a lot of happy people here.”

Lanier said the first 1,400 vaccines will be administered to those who registered for appointments prior to Dec. 31, while the remaining 1,500 are for those who signed up this week. They will also be providing first doses but have a separate allocation of second doses coming in for those who need them.

Lanier said the church staff and pastor have been working to support the Health Department staff. He said they’ve been “amazing” partners both when they were using the site for testing and now for vaccinations.

“They’ve been wonderful community partners,” he said. “They provided some delicious Cuban coffee the first day we were out here. They’ve been very accommodating.”

The church operation is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is able to provide up to 800 vaccines a day.

Lanier said that as more vaccines become available the public will be notified via the Osceola County Health Department website at osceola.florida.health.gov. More information on vaccinations and COVID-19 updates can be found on the county’s website, as well.

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