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Baton Rouge nurse on personal mission to get underserved, vulnerable populations vaccinated

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BATON ROUGE - The COVID-19 pandemic, now more than a year long in Louisiana, is personal for Carla Brown.

The nurse unknowingly brought home the virus last spring. Several family members, including her husband, tested positive. The man she calls the love of her life died months later from complications.

That was in July 2020, months before any vaccine was ready and authorized by the FDA. Brown's husband never got the chance to get his shot. She doesn't want anyone else to have to experience that.

"Whatever it's going to take," Brown said. "I just want to get the minority and those most in need to get this vaccine."

She's doing something about it.

As rollout started in December, Brown noticed the obstacles many were facing to try and get vaccinated.

"We have a population of people who are not computer-savvy, don't know how to use a smartphone," Brown said.

Brown refused to let people who lacked access to appointments or transportation to miss the potentially life-saving shot.

She started reaching out to her community and those she encountered through her job at a Baton Rouge hospice center. She made phone calls and went door to door to find out who needed the vaccine. She's even putting plenty of miles on her car, picking up the elderly and underserved, and driving them to vaccine locations around the capital area.

"I'm still knocking on doors in my own neighborhood," Brown said.

Brown also works to help people who aren't trying to find vaccines. She convinces many who remain skeptical of the value and safety of the injections.

As of Wednesday, just 25 percent of those in Louisiana who have started the vaccination process are Black.

"It's about face-to-face, persuading them, showing them, 'hey I got this vaccine, my dad, 90, received this vaccine, you need to get it,'" Brown said.

Brown calls her approach firm, with love.

"You want to go to your grave early, or you want to live? That's been my sales pitch," Brown said. "Well, no nurse Brown. Then we need to have this conversation."

Sometimes even Brown's straight talk doesn't get the job done. So she goes further.

"Some I just physically took in my car and brought," Brown said. "Refused to take no for an answer. It's an everyday effort."

Brown has gotten dozens of people vaccinated, but says it's not enough.

To me that's a low number, that's a small number," Brown said, fighting back tears. "I still feel defeated, because that is a small number. I feel that can be better."

With help from her team at her day job at Canon Hospice, the phone calls and follow-ups and home visits continue.

Brown says the mission to honor her husband is far from over.

"It's such a void, and we are missing the mark," Brown said. "I don't think I'm going to rest until I see the numbers come up in the minority."

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