AKRON, Ohio — When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's office chose the Summit County Fairgrounds in Tallmadge as a mass vaccination site, pushback followed from some who felt a major clinic outside of Akron made it more difficult for minority community members to get their shots.
On Wednesday, in part due to the criticism, Summit County leaders teamed up with a church, community centers, and METRO Regional Transit, and provided free bus rides to more than 100 residents to get their COVID-19 vaccinations at the fairgrounds.
It was a "targeted outreach" effort looking to help people who indicated they wanted a vaccine but hadn't been able to get one.
Buses departed from places familiar and comfortable to the residents: The House of the Lord Church, Joy Park Community Center, and the Reach Opportunity Center at Summit Lake.
Residents received help filling out forms during the ride and when the buses pulled into the fairgrounds, nurses in protective gear administered the shots.
Herman Matherson, associate pastor of The House of the Lord, said with some in the black community facing transportation and healthcare hurdles, the bus rides are extremely important.
"To have this in our community where they can have immediate access to a vaccination, that's powerful," Matherson said.
Initially, Chapel Hill Mall was proposed as a long-term mass vaccination site, but it was moved to the fairgrounds after it was revealed Industrial Commercial Properties was in discussions to convert the mall into a business park.
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro there are frequent conversations surrounding the topic of making the vaccine process easier for minority and disadvantaged community members.
"We are trying to do our very best to make it as comfortable and convenient to get everybody vaccinated that we can, especially people that don't have their own modes of transportation," Shapiro said.
Annette Long, 63, who rode one of the buses and got a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, agreed that transportation can be a serious barrier for some Akron residents.
"I think it's important that we have this because there are a lot of us that don't have transportation--or the ones that do-- the other people are working and they can't get them to take them when they need to go," Long said.
METRO bus driver Karli Patterson not only transported people to the mass clinic, but she also received her vaccine.
"I'm proud of getting it because I really don't know what's going to go on from this point, so I have it now so it's over," Patterson said. "I truly believe that we all need to do it."
Shapiro said there is a free shuttle that runs from Chapel Hill Mall to the Summit County Fairgrounds for people who provide proof of their vaccine appointment.
The county plans to evaluate the mass vaccination bus trips and may offer more of them in the coming weeks.
Long said getting her vaccination provides her with a sense of relief and a feeling of safety. She hopes returning to normalcy comes next.
"Everybody gets their vaccine and then we can all be able to get out there and barbecue and have our weddings and all that kind of stuff. I think it will be great," she said.