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Barkley in Birmingham to urge vaccinations: ‘This thing is for real’

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NBA legend Charles Barkley with Darrell Hudson Sr., principal A.H. Parker High School with his son Darrell Hudson Jr. at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

The Birmingham Times

Basketball legend Charles Barkley headlined a COVID-19 vaccination drive Saturday afternoon that drew dozens of people to Birmingham’s Legion Field.

Barkley, who has been outspoken in his support of the vaccine, spent nearly two hours signing autographs, taking selfies with fans, and urging people to get the shot.

“It’s about people getting vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do. We’ve got to stop being selfish. You don’t get the vaccination just for yourself, you get it for the people around you,” the NBA Hall of Famer and Auburn University basketball great told AL.com during the outdoor event.

“I’m from here. So they asked me to be involved and I’m doing a small, little part … We’ve got to stop being selfish, especially for the kids. You’ve got to get the vaccine for your kids so your kids can be safe.”

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The drive featured walk-up and drive-thru vaccination sites, which saw a steady flow of area residents getting their first Pfizer shots. Over 100 people received vaccines at the event, according to Bob Shepard, a spokesman for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which led the drive.

Drive through vaccines were delivered by a team led by Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D., a family and urgent care physician. Walk up vaccines will be administered by Alabama Regional Medical Services, a Federally-Qualified Health Center serving the greater Birmingham area.

Barkley said he wanted everybody to gets vaccinated because “it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There’s no good reason not to get vaccinated … Think about this: How many people have died? How many people have lost their businesses? How many people have lost their houses? This thing is for real.”

The event, presented by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC), provided walk up and drive in vaccines at Legion Field.

Asked how many people UAB hoped would get the shot at the Saturday event, Dr. Mona Fouad, Director of the UAB MHRC and Principal Investigator for Alabama CEAL (Community Engagement Alliance against COVID-19 Disparities, said the goal was to vaccinate “as many as we can get.”

“We’ve talked to a lot of community members, and they all said, ‘We need to hear from a trusted voice, somebody that we trust, somebody we know, not somebody out in Washington or someplace outside,’” she said. “And Charles Barkley has been a great supporter of our work for years. We reached out to him, and he didn’t hesitate to come.”

Vaccines are safe and effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. All persons 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. There is a surge in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and currently about 90 percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. About 190 million people in America have been vaccinated, but only about 35 percent of Alabamians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

AL.com contributed to this report