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Orange County could use your help administering COVID-19 vaccine

County prepared to help vaccinate long-term care facility residents with state’s first doses

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida is preparing to receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines within the week and has a plan in place to begin distributing the shots to the state’s most vulnerable, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a video update on Thursday.

In the shipment, Florida is set to receive more than 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was endorsed for widespread use on Thursday by a U.S. panel.

“The federal government has allocated Florida 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for our first shipment. And we anticipate receiving these initial doses within the week, we are working to get as much vaccine for our citizens as possible, but Florida will not nor will any state have enough to vaccinate everyone right off the bat,” DeSantis said.

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The vaccine doses will be distributed based on priority, with those considered most at-risk at the top of the list, including residents of long-term care facilities.

The first shipment of the vaccine will be distributed as follows, according to the governor:

  • 97,500 doses will be sent to hospitals to administer vaccine to high-contact and high-exposure health care personnel
  • 60,450 doses of vaccine will be sent to CVS and Walgreens for use in long-term care facilities.
  • 21,450 doses of vaccine will go directly to the Florida Department of Health

“Our top priority is residents of long term care facilities, they are at the greatest risk, and this vaccine could have a positive impact on them, not just protecting them from COVID, but allowing them to return to a more normal life,” DeSantis said.

The governor said the state will use strike teams from the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard to go into long-term care facilities and administer the vaccine in areas with a high concentration of facilities.

The strike teams’ efforts will supplement the work done by CVS and Walgreens, which are both contracted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer vaccines inside long-term care facilities as part of Operation Warp Speed, according to the governor.

Locally, officials in Orange County say, if allowed, they’re willing and able to help speed up the vaccinations of those residents.

“There’s a plan with CVS and Walgreens, to implement that strategy to vaccinate our assisted living facilities, but we’re really prepared in Orange County to supplement them and to help them, you know, the worst thing we can have is the availability of the vaccine in Orange County, and then not quickly get it to those it’s intended for,” said Orange County Director of Public Safety Danny Banks.

Banks said if the county needs to step in and assist with assisted living facility vaccination events, it will do so “immediately,” something Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, echoed.

“What I can tell you is that Orange County is ready. If the Walgreens and the CVS are not ready, we are ready and with the support from the county, we could quickly implement -- at lease for the assisted living facilities -- rather fast,” Pino said. “We have the resources in our county. We have everything that we need to engage and the state knows that. And we have expressed our desire.”

Pino said he expects the vaccine to arrive in Orange County between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20. He expects assisted living facilities will begin being vaccinated at the beginning of that time frame.

In the meantime, Pino said the county is looking for qualified volunteers who are interested in helping administer the COVID-19 vaccine if the county needs to tap them as a resource down the road.

“I also would like to encourage any individuals that are licensed and within the scope of their practice they can provide vaccinations, and they would like to be considered for volunteer activities with us in the future when we engage in mass vaccination to visit our website, which is orange.floridahealth.gov to apply as a volunteer. If you have the ability and the time, we may need your help to quickly vaccinate all our county,” Pino said.

Pino said they have already scouted out some places as potential vaccination sites in case they need to set up camp to help administer the shots, including the Orange County Convention Center.

“We can handle large volumes in there. That hustle is in the works. We have developed ... strike teams to be able to provide those services when needed,” Pino said.

Banks said only a few thousand doses of Florida’s first vaccine shipment will make their way to Orange County and urged residents to follow CDC guidelines until the vaccine is more widely available.

“We know that the vaccine will be here as soon as next week. It’s important that people realize that it’s not going to be an immediate opportunity for everyone to get vaccinated. We anticipate perhaps only into the 10s of 1,000s, maybe low 10s of 1000s to really come to Orange County on that first wave,” Banks said. “We hope that quickly thereafter, maybe within a week or so, we get another load so that that volume that we get in Orange County increases, but it’s going to be some months, and that’s why we continue to stress the importance of continued masking, the continued opportunities to get testing.”

Pino said more than two-thirds of the population needs to be vaccinated for the community to have immunity against COVID-19.

“It is calculated for this particular disease, you need to have 79% of the population vaccinated,” Pino said. “In Orange County, that’s more than a million people, so it will take some time to get there.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said on Thursday that Pino has told him he expects mask-wearing to continue well into next year.

“Dr. Pino said to me today when we came in, that it potentially will be wearing these masks, probably ‘til late spring, early summer because of the lack of availability and some of the challenges with the distribution of the vaccination,” Demings said.

Pino said on Thursday that while the vaccine is not mandatory, those who choose not to get it once it’s available to the public should expect some restrictions.

“People should expect that, in the future, there’s going to be some limitations for those not vaccinated. Travel, perhaps, getting on an airplane, going to visit somewhere,” he said.

Seminole County emergency manager Alan Harris reacted to the guidance issued by the state.

“Almost 500,000 doses are projected for week two, for week three it’s about 400,000 it’s not going to stop with week 1 it’s going to continue, it’s going to be more,” Harris said.

Harris said he was privy to the plan ahead of Thursday’s announcement.

“Pfizer will come in sometime next week they are anticipating Monday or Tuesday next week,” Harris said.

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