Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

Celebrating our COVID-19 vaccine champions

Thousands of health care professionals and support staff have helped protect our communities in the wake of COVID-19. From long hours in the ICU to volunteer shifts at vaccination sites, these heroes have helped throughout the pandemic.

But alongside these health care professionals on the front lines, members of our local and state communities also have dedicated their time to encouraging vaccination in their personal circles. These vaccine champions, from different walks of life, have played a crucial role in helping reassure others of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

We’re forever grateful for their tireless work and the trust they put in us to use their voices to help protect our community. Hear from some of our champions about their reasons for getting the COVID-19 vaccine:


Gerard Duncan

Pastor, Prayers By Faith Outreach Ministries

“I believed that the opportunity to help educate the most hesitant was extremely important for me after having tested positive for COVID-19 months prior to the vaccine being released. I met Dr. Michael Lauzardo after several faith leaders protocol meetings. Knowing he shared the same values made it easier for me to become vaccinated and help champion it.

Many of my close friends and family members were dying because of the virus. I felt I had a responsibility to ensure that I was educated enough or knew the right people who were educated enough to help me understand how to engage already-hesitant people whose views were entrenched in historical systemic health disparities. I wanted to show them that the vaccine myths were misinterpreted.

My hopes for this coming year are to see COVID-19, underlying heath issues and preexisting conditions of the uninsured be addressed through community engagement. I would like to see more community conversations through outreach provide education, health and wellness, and equitable access for the underrepresented.

The need for collaborative and strategic community engagement that is culturally sensitive to the most vulnerable populations is needed from organizational stakeholders that have a common interest of seeing a one-community, one-city and one-county model to help all who are in need experience a quality of life that is desperately needed.”

Karl Anderson


Karl Anderson 

Pastor, Upper Room Ministries

“I got the COVID-19 vaccine because I wanted to live. I had too many family, friends and colleagues die from it. To me, it was a no-brainer. It was important for me to fight vaccine hesitancy because I wanted the same for others. I am praying and hoping for us to achieve herd immunity in our community. I fought hard to provide people vaccine awareness and access because my goal is to help save lives. In closing, when you’ve been vaccinated, I urge you to not be so overly confident but continue to wear your mask.”


Ashley Gomez, RN

Ashley Gomez, RN

Cardiac ICU/IMC nurse, UF Health

“I got the vaccine because I felt it was my duty to move forward with science and help everyone in the long term. A lot of my friends are getting vaccinated now, too, so that makes me feel more comfortable, and it feels more normal to be able to hang out with someone and not feel scared.”



Danita Gainer


Danita Gainer 

Human resources development coordinator, UF Health

“I got the COVID-19 vaccine because I’m an avid traveler. If this brings me closer to being able to travel more and have my life back, it’s worth it.”



Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

Ambassador, University of Florida Athletics

“Be a team player and do your part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. Get your vaccination — we all need to do this. Don’t let the myths and misinformation sack you. Together, let’s end the pandemic, and let’s get back to doing what we do best, and that’s filling The Swamp, rooting for the Gators.”


Akeem Thompson Sr. and his kids after getting their vaccines

Akeem Thompson Sr.

Local DJ and community leader

Akeem Thompson Sr., better known in the community as “DJ Terrah,” partnered with UF Health as a COVID-19 vaccine champion to promote vaccine acceptance during the thick of the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic. As someone with underlying health conditions, a father and a witness to the devastation COVID-19 was having in his community, Thompson was eager to help fight vaccine hesitancy using his platform as DJ for Magic 101.3 and 98 Jamz. He wanted the best for himself, his children and his community. Although he was double-vaccinated, Akeem lost his battle with COVID-19 due to several underlying health conditions. When we learned of his passing, his mother Lisa shared, “Even in the hospital he was advocating for people to get the vaccine and grateful that he and his children had received it.”

We at UF Health are honored to have worked with and fought alongside Akeem Thompson to help our community get vaccinated against COVID-19. Learn more about Akeem “DJ Terrah” Thompson Sr. and his impact on the community.

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