Here’s what we know about Florida’s plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine

Shots could be offered at drive-thru sites

This September 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials for a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the company. On Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that the Food and Drug Administration is letting it resume testing of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the U.S. (Cheryl Gerber/Johnson & Johnson via AP) (Cheryl Gerber, Copyright Cheryl Gerber)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Although we still don’t know when a COVID-19 vaccine will be made available to the general public, the Florida Department of Health is already making plans to administer those injections to residents across the state.

A draft vaccine plan from the FDOH, dated Oct. 16, outlines a possible three-phased approach to distribution that would ensure that the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, are the first in line to receive the shots.

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The department is still waiting on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify those groups but they are expected to be:

  • Health care personnel likely to be exposed to or treat people with COVID-19
  • Those at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including those with underlying medical conditions
  • Essential workers
  • Those 65 and older
  • Long-term care residents and staff

The state will work with doctors, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the State Emergency Response Team, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and other similar agencies to identify members of at-risk populations who would be a priority for vaccination during phase one.

Phase two is when the public could expect to see the vaccine more widely available at places such as pharmacies, hospitals, pediatrician offices, general physician offices and community-based sites that could operate using a drive-thru model like the one being used to offer coronavirus testing at the Orange County Convention Center and other locations across the state.

Once demand stabilizes, the state will enter phase three and the focus will transition to providing the vaccine through pharmacies and health care sites that are routinely used to deliver flu shots and other innoculations.

The Florida Department of Health currently plans to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in three phases. (Florida Department of Health)

The doctors and state health officials who are developing the distribution plans are meeting biweekly. They include Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson and state epidemiologist Dr. Carina Blackmore as well as nearly four dozen others.

They’re expected to use lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the Hepatitis A outbreak last year and from seasonal influenza vaccine programs as they finalize their plans in the coming months.

Since hospitals have the most storage, they’ll likely be among some of the first health care facilities to receive doses of the vaccine.

Once other providers and pharmacies are enrolled in the program as well, state health officials plan to map out all vaccination sites to ensure that all residents have access. In communities in which there are gaps, local pharmacies will be encouraged to sign up.

There will also be efforts to make residents aware both before the vaccine is rolled out and once it is available. A dedicated website will be created at some point to provide information and there are expected to be social media postings, YouTube videos, flyers and other awareness efforts as well.

Those who do opt to get the shot will be given information ahead of time to let them know about any potential risks or adverse side effects. A 24/7 hotline will be established, possibly run by Florida’s Poison Control Centers, so anyone who does become ill after receiving a dose can report those symptoms. Those calls will be assessed to determine whether the person needs to seek medical treatment.

Dr. Bruce Rankin with Accel Research Sites in DeLand is leading research efforts to find a vaccine. He said after two and a half months, they’re starting to wrap up their first wave of trials.

“Very shortly our site will see wave two come through for additional vaccines, so we’ll be looking for participants of all ethnic groups to come in again to come to help us out,” Rankin said.

Rankin believes a vaccine will be approved by the first quarter of next year. He adds it will take a lot of work and planning to distribute it, but the demand for a vaccine won’t rush the process.

“We have to let science do good, quality date back to the groups and make sure that we’re seeing the difference between the vaccine and no vaccine as far as our response,” he said.

AdventHealth sent News 6 a statement regarding their plans for distributing a vaccine, saying “AdventHealth has a task force made up of clinical leaders that is meeting regularly to make sure we’re ready when the vaccine becomes available. We will be ready as early as November.”

You can read the draft of Florida’s COVID-19 vaccination plan in its entirety below: