Detroiters line up to get vaccinated on first Senior Saturday

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroiters braved bitter-cold temperatures and snowy conditions Saturday to be able to get the sought-after vaccination against the highly-contagious and deadly COVID-19.

Hundreds of residents, ages 65 and over, turned out at two Detroit churches, Fellowship Chapel and Second Ebenezer Church, to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

It was the first of what Detroit health officials are calling "Senior Saturdays" and hope to vaccinate about 1,000 seniors each of the days.

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Some residents were brought to the churches by their children and some were pushed in wheelchairs by their spouses.

At Fellowship Chapel on West Outer Drive on Detroit's northwest side, Shirley Corley and Florence Bass, both retired educators, stood in a small line that went fast to get inside the church, where there was a brief wait to get the shot in the arm.

The women laughed as they admitted that  their sons pushed them to get vaccine.

Bonita Hall of Detroit, seated, holds onto her dog, Zoey, as she gets the Moderna vaccine shot from Wayne Health Nurse Practitioner Dequanna Johnson at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.

Corley added she had another motivation: She's tired of not being able to get out and do things.

"I'm very active so I want to get it so I can get out again," said Corley. 

Bass chimed in, "My son called me twice from Houston and asked when they were giving the vaccinations (in Detroit)."

Ann Ellis was philosophical about her decision to get the vaccination Saturday saying, "I'm already 81 so what do I have to lose?" 

Ellis urged others to sign up to get vaccinated.

"We're not going to stop this virus if everyone is not vaccinated," said Ellis, a retired steelworker.

Donald Williams, 70, agreed.

"I came out to be vaccinated to cut down on the possibility of the virus," said Williams, a retired General Motors worker. "I would suggest (others) take it to prevent the spread of the virus. We need all the help we can get."

Detroit health officials were pleased with the turnout.

"We're going to be adding more locations throughout the city," said Denise Fair, the chief public health officer for the Detroit Health Department.

Fair said the city's senior population is a top priority to receive the vaccine. Efforts like the kickoff of Senior Saturdays will continue for the next eight weeks.

"Seniors are the backbone of our community and our most vulnerable population," said Fair. "Despite the cold weather the seniors came out because they understand this is really important."

Nurses were stationed at eights bays inside Fellowship Chapel and at Second Ebenezer.

At Fellowship Chapel, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, also the president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, said Saturday's large turnout makes it "obvious" that people want to get the vaccine.

"I'm glad the city is partnering with churches and other organizations ... where people can come and get (the vaccine)," said Anthony.

Anthony said some people might be hesitant about getting the vaccine because of the Tuskegee experiment, where Blacks who participated in a syphilis study were given placebos instead of treatment even after penicillin was discovered as a cure.

But Anthony said the vaccine is safe and he recommends "everyone who needs it get it."

Ola Claiborne, 74,  received her shot in the arm and waited for the required 15 minutes to make sure it was OK.

"I was reluctant at first," said Claiborne, a retired Detroit Public Schools educator. "But other family members and friends were getting it."

At Second Ebenezer, located on Dequindre near Six Mile Road, Bishop Edgar L. Vann, said he was "extremely energized" by Saturday's turnout.

Vann said while he is not forcing anyone to get the vaccine, he applauded Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for partnering with churches so the city's elderly population can get the vaccine and information about it if they choose to.

"The virus will not be going away," said Vann. "At this point it's the vaccine or the virus."

Vann said the city of Detroit has been very organized in getting its older residents vaccinated. He said seniors citizens in nearby areas are calling his church to try to get access to the vaccine.

Iona Abram, a 74-year-old retired federal defense employee, was among those who showed up early to Vann's church to get the vaccine.

"I've been anxious to get it because of my age and ethnicity and my desire to travel," said Abram. "I want to go see my 97-year-old mother who is in St. Louis."