Camden brings out its hoops heroes for ‘This is your shot — make it count’ vaccine campaign

Officials in the city of Camden and Camden County are bringing out some of the area’s biggest hoops heroes in an effort to increase vaccination rates in the area.

Camden High School basketball standout D.J. Wagner — the latest in a long line of family basketball stars — his coach, former Villanova star and NBA player Rick Brunson, and teammate Cian Medley all recently participated in a new public service announcement in partnership with the board of county commissioners.

The message is clear: “This is your shot — make it count.”

County and city officials said the goal is for every municipality to be 70% vaccinated. So far, there have been 570,752 doses of the vaccine administered throughout Camden County, with more than 311,749 residents having at least one dose. In Camden city, more than 60% of the population 18 and over has had at least one dose.

Commissioner Al Dyer said he feels getting the trio to lend their names to the cause will have impact.

“Getting these individuals to step up and lend their voices to this campaign was imperative for us to convince our neighbors that the vaccine is the right decision,” he said. “Rick, Cian and D.J. know how important it is to protect their friends, family and community, and I want to thank them for their advocacy on this issue.

“Furthermore, these kids are role models in the city and beyond its borders for so many people and hoop heads throughout the state. We know the peer-to-peer message is impactful with other kids and families to make their shot count.”

More than 10,000 residents in Camden have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, double that of any other municipality in Camden County. Camden has also lost 178 residents to COVID-19.

That’s why Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, a former coach and star at the school, said he is pushing to reach 70% and then some. And he said he was grateful to get help from the city’s vaunted program.

“I’ve been clear about my goal to get at least 70% of our city vaccinated and to cover every square inch of Camden to do it,” he said. “I want to thank Rick and the kids at Camden High for stepping up to the plate and assisting this effort.

“Lord knows, we all want to see these kids on the court this year playing the best high school teams in the nation inside the brand-new Camden High School gym. This special team needs all of us to play a role and get the shot, so they can have a historic season and we can be there in person to see it.”

The superintendent of the Camden City School District, Katrina McCombs, talked about the importance of her students and coach at Camden High School stepping up to get the word out for this critical public health initiative.

“I can’t say enough about our scholar athletes and coach participating in this vital effort,” McCombs said. “None of us want to be back in remote learning. We want to be back in the classroom with our teachers, friends and teammates. Getting vaccinated is the only way we can adequately preserve the things we love to do.”

Leadership from Cooper University Health Care applauded the new public service announcement and the ongoing campaign to bolster vaccinations.

“Since the first vaccines were available last December, our focus has been on getting individuals vaccinated by separating fact from fiction, providing education and making the vaccine readily available,” co-CEO Kevin O’Dowd said. “We commend superstar D.J. Wagner for joining this effort and encouraging people to protect themselves by getting vaccinated, and we praise our partners for working with us to give residents the chance to receive the vaccine right at home.”