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FISH, Community House Team Up to Offer COVID Vaccine

The highly sought after COVID-19 vaccination made its way to the island as FISH of SanCap organized a distribution of the shots, administered by the Florida Department of Health Tuesday, March 23 at the Sanibel Community House.

But while the two organizations names were tied to dthe project, Maggi Feiner, president and CEO of FISH, said shots don’t get in arms without the help of volunteers and the entire community as a whole.

“We worked with the Community House, but we also worked in partnership with all of the doctors, pharmacies, parish nurses,” Feiner said. “This is a true community partnership.”

FISH has also been involved in other community affairs around the island, focusing on food programs, island-based education, social and senior services, as well as helping hands and financial assistance.

This particular community partnership started when the Florida DOH gave FISH about 150 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to distribute to residents of Sanibel and Captiva. FISH then started to identify those residents in need of a vaccine by working with doctors, nurses and physical therapists in the communities.

But Feiner said the reason FISH brought the vaccines to the island wasn’t just to give them out to those who were eligible, but rather those who had difficulties getting off of the island to get the shot, or even registering for the shot itself.

The importance of getting the vaccine to these individuals weighs even deeper as Sanibel and Captiva reported a combined 250 COVID-19 cases on the islands, Lee County with over 61,000 and the whole state of Florida with over 2 million cases and 32,000 deaths as of March 22.

With the need for the vaccine growing stronger, FISH needed a venue. Sarah Jacobson, the director of events and marketing at the Sanibel Community House, said the historic, one-floor building off of Periwinkle Way fit the requirements of distributing the shots safely.

“We thought it was important for those people that had difficulties finding a different place to go for the vaccine to be able to do it someplace where they knew they could be safe, and it was local and they would feel comfortable coming to,” Jacobson said. “We had a large enough facility that we could spread out and have all of the people safely get their vaccine.”

Jacobson also said Tuesday’s distribution of the vaccine wasn’t the first time the Community House helped bring safety to the community.

“We’ve offered tetanus booster shots, we’ve offered different kinds of vaccines and shots all throughout our history because it was a central location,” Jacobson said. “A place people can come and receive different kinds of vaccines and shots.”

While FISH’s distribution was the first time the COVID vaccines have arrived on Sanibel, it wasn’t the first time the community came together to help residents get their much-needed shot.

Earlier in March, a team of vaccine “angles” from St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church worked tirelessly during evenings and early mornings to register those who have trouble navigating online vaccination appointments, according to a report provided to the Santiva Chronicle.

Kevin Ruane, former mayor of Sanibel and current chairman on Lee County’s Board of County Commissioners, brought this issue up in a discussion with the Captiva Community Panel on Feb. 9.

He said that because residents of the islands are typically on the older side, complications have been brought up about citizens not being able to register for the shot online.

“We quickly went from a first come, first serve basis, which became really barbaric, and quickly switched to a call-in center,” Ruane said in the Feb. 9 CCP meeting. “It was also determined that we would have a dial-in as opposed to an online system because our community is a little older. Many people indicated that they didn’t have computers, or they weren’t comfortable doing things on the computer.”

Under the direction of St. Michael Parish Nurse Wendy Warner, RN, the “angles” have helped immensely with those complications, registering over 130 people online for vaccination appointments.

In April, even more residents can get vaccinated as FISH is set to receive about 300 doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Due to these vaccinations being two doses instead of the one dose Johnson and Johnson shot, FISH will set up two dates for those getting the vaccination and will still work with the Community House. The first dose will be given on April 9 with the second on April 30.

But while Feiner said getting people their shots are of the upmost importance, hearing people’s stories and realizing that FISH is a needed organization on the island was worthwhile too.

“We were able to really educate them more and really talk with them about what was going on in their lives and hear some fascinating stories of people as to where they came from, how they got here, what is going on here and how COVID really has effected them over the past 12 months plus,” Feiner said. “The stories really brought forward that FISH services are really needed down here for many people.”

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