Shots For Shots Vaccine Event At Dragon's Den Draws A Young Crowd
Amidst a crowd of mostly early 20- to early 30-somethings gathered on the Esplanade Avenue neutral ground in front of the Dragon’s Den bar on Friday night, Monique Woods sat quietly on one of the metal chairs lined up roughly six feet apart and waited for her number to be called.
Like many of the others lingering around a white and blue tent, she was waiting to receive a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at an event that offered shots for shots — shots of liquor for receiving shots of the vaccine.
Tipped off about the event by her doctor at CrescentCare, a federally qualified health center in New Orleans, Woods didn’t plan to take advantage of the free liquor shot. She was there for convenience.
“It was perfect timing for me when I get off work,” Woods said. She works for FedEx and her shift ends later than some other vaccination clinics remain open.
She also liked that it was a walk-up event. If she’d had to make an appointment she said probably would have “skated by without doing it.”
A young Black woman from New Orleans, Woods, 33, is exactly who Jevon Thompson wanted to reach when he planned the vaccination clinic with CrescentCare and the city’s health department.
“To be super specific — young Black people between the ages of 21 [and] 35.” Thompson said.
Thompson, who’s better known as DJ RQAway, runs a weekly party at Dragon’s Den called the Tipping Point. He’s re-branded it as Easing In, a nod to the gradual return to normal, as the city incrementally loosens COVID-19 restrictions.
As a DJ, Thomspson tries to create spaces that provide young Black New Orleanians access to spaces and opportunities more often afforded to their white counterparts. He saw this extending to vaccinations.
While Orleans Parish has the second-best vaccination rate in the state, following West Feliciana Parish, vaccination rates among Black residents are lagging behind rates for white people. Analysis of Louisiana Health Department data reveals 28.8 percent of Black people in Orleans Parish have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to roughly 55.5 percent of white residents. Forty-seven percent of people who have received at least one vaccine dose in Orleans Parish are white, while 43 percent are Black. White people make up 33 percent of the population. Black people make up 59 percent.
Plus, according to a recent survey conducted by the Louisiana Department of Health, residents of all races between the ages of 18 and 44 appear more hesitant or unwilling to receive a COVID-19 vaccine than their older counterparts.
Dr. Jason Halperin, the infectious disease clinical lead at CrescentCare, said that’s because getting a vaccine seems low on the list of important things to do for busy young people.
“It's the lower risk groups, especially those that are young and healthy, who know that they need the vaccine, but they have so many other priorities right now that it's really hard to make that time,” Halperin said.
CrescentCare runs its own vaccination program out of its facility on Elysian Fields, where it provides the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The center, which provides healthcare to vulnerable groups, was given 300 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to offer to patients at its intravenous needle exchange program on Friday. Halperin and vaccine coordinator Katie Conner brought the leftover supply, 200 doses, to the event at the Dragon’s Den.
“We've realized that we have to bring them to people,” Conner said, referring to young people. “And also try to make it fun.”
Public health leaders are also learning the power of local influencers to bring people to vaccination events.
Thompson made a worthy ambassador. He’s long been known for tying his events to forms of aid, including using his Lagniappe series at Tipitina’s as a way to collect non-perishable foods or household items for the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Inside the Dragon’s Den, he spun a rotation of ‘90s hip hop peppered heavily with hits from rapper DMX, who died earlier that day.
Despite his mostly Black fan base, the vaccination clinic attracted a more diverse crowd than a regular DJ RQAway party would.
Joshua Tillman, a 22-year-old from California, decided to get the shot while visiting friends in New Orleans.
“I would have been in the last of the last group to get vaccinated [in California],” he said.
He considered the ethics of getting immunized while in a different state.
“I was a little concerned. I felt like I was kind of cheating the system,” Tillman said. “I actually called my parents. They said, ‘If you can do it, great!’ ”
Other people who received vaccines that day live in the greater New Orleans area. Multiple Black residents, including Woods, said they were hesitant to take any COVID-19 vaccine.
Ryan Smith said he was convinced when his friend who brought him to the vaccine clinic explained the potential alternative.
“He's basically saying how the long-term effects from getting COVID-19 could be not only respiratory but also neurological. So that convinced me to get the vaccine today,” Smith said.
Vaccinators delivered 164 shots to patients before a rainstorm blew through, possibly deterring an even greater turnout.
Halperin, from CrescentCare, said the public health care system needs to make vaccine equity a priority by hosting more events like the one on Friday night.
“This needs to be a long-term commitment from us at CrescentCare,” Halperin said. “It also should be a long-term commitment from all of us in the community, that we can't just have one event, we have to make sure people trust us [and] recognize that we are there.”
Another bar has organized a COVID-19 vaccine clinic this coming weekend. On Saturday, vaccine seekers can visit Kermit’s Treme Mother In Law Lounge for their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. The event was expected to deliver the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to patients, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control have recommended a pause in its administration.
Correction: An earlier version of this story spelled Katie Conner's name incorrectly.