Come for the celebration, stay for the vaccine: Juneteenth events offer shots, too

A man holds a woman's shoulders as she gets a shot.
Shane Price supports his wife, Verna Price, ash she gets her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Black Nurses Rock president Kelly Robinson inside of the Power of People Leadership Institute in March 2021. Verna Price was hesitant to get the vaccine, but said that having it explained to her by a nurse of color helped her come around, "I just needed to here it in person from someone like nurse Kelly," Price said.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Shane Price has a long list of attractions he hopes will draw people to a Juneteenth event this Saturday that his organization, the Power of People Leadership Institute, is sponsoring: “There will be festivities for the children, there will be music, and rides…” he said.

But Price is hoping people won’t come just for the celebration. Juneteenth, newly a federal holiday, marks the end of slavery in America. 

This year, the volunteer group Black Nurses Rock will be on hand at Minneapolis’ Phyllis Wheatley Community Center to offer COVID-19 vaccines, too — as well as things like gift cards and the chance to win $1,000 as incentives to get a shot. 

A woman gives a vaccine to her son.
Black Nurses Rock Minnesota-Twin Cities Chapter president Kelly Robinson, right, vaccinates her son, Dwayne Robinson, during a clinic in March 2021 put on by Black Nurses Rock with Ramsey County inside of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Price works with people who have recently been incarcerated and are trying to make their way in the world again. He sees the vaccine as a pathway to normalcy and safety for the people he serves, many of whom are Black — and many of whom come from communities disproportionately impacted by the virus.

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“It’s just so critical for us in Minnesota to see the vaccine as something that is important for helping us return to a more normalized life," he said.

The weekend celebration is just one example of the type of hyper-targeted vaccination events that health care providers, public health departments and community organizations are collaborating on as the state shifts from large-scale vaccination events to smaller ones, aimed at connecting shots to people who so far haven’t had easy access to them. 

Among those groups are Black Minnesotans, who make up just under 6 percent of the state's population. But vaccination rates among Black Minnesotans lag. Just under 5 percent of people vaccinated in Minnesota are Black.

That gap is the product of a host of challenges: Sometimes lack of transportation or time off from work can be a barrier. Sometimes it’s the result of fear and distrust of the medical system, rooted in generations of structural racism.

And sometimes, people are just waiting to see others in their lives get the vaccine — or for it to be available to their entire family, said Laura Andersen, who works with the St. Paul-Ramsey County health department.

Andersen is helping coordinate a vaccination event at St. Paul’s Allianz Field on Saturday, happening at a Juneteenth celebration, with food, music and other activities. Neither appointments nor insurance are required to get a shot, because COVID-19 vaccines are free. 

"Throughout the summer months, our intention is to continue to provide these mobile clinics in locations where people feel familiar and connected," Andersen said. Those locations, she said, could be mosques, churches or Juneteenth community festivals.

Making sure Ramsey County's Black residents have easy access to the vaccine, she said, is essential. Thirteen percent of the county’s population is Black, but Ramsey County’s vaccination efforts have reached only 10 percent of Black residents.

"It's really our responsibility that we target vaccine to residents who need it most, who haven't had time to wait in line at a mass clinic, who may need weekend hours,” she said. “We need to make this vaccine as convenient as possible.”

Both Juneteenth vaccination drives will be offering the shots made by Pfizer, which means kids as young as 12 are eligible to get vaccinated. And at both events, people who get the vaccine will be able to sign up for their second dose.

If you go: Juneteenth vaccine events in the Twin Cities

Saturday in St. Paul

  • Saturday, June 19

  • 1 to 5 p.m.

  • Allianz Field, 400 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul

  • Pfizer vaccines available; no appointment necessary

  • More information here

Saturday in Minneapolis

  • Saturday, June 19

  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

  • Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, 1301 N. 10th Ave., Minneapolis

  • Pfizer vaccines available; no appointment necessary

  • More information here

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.