ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – So far, no dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been thrown out due to expiration concerns at the Orange County Convention Center site, according to Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
In fact, the site has had to pause registration after reaching 70,000 appointments, enough to vaccinate 35,000 people with the two required doses.
Pino said pausing those appointments is a strategic move to make sure the county uses its limited supply of the shots wisely.
“The longer out that you give an appointment, the higher number of cancelations you are going to have because the longer the appointment is out, the harder it is for people to keep it up,” Pino said.
Cancelations aren’t necessarily a problem since those slots can be filled but Pino said the issue is when people keep their appointment but then don’t show up to get the shot.
“People should know part of keeping things dynamic, is that we pre-draw the vaccines in order to speed up the vaccination process, we pre-draw the dosage. So we have to be careful how much we put out of the vials because we don’t want to waste vaccine because after you withdraw, in some cases they can only be used for five hours after you put it in the syringe,” Pino said.
He said there have been instances where there might be four or five pre-drawn syringes left over at the end of the day and in that case, the doses are given to health department employees or convention center employees so they don’t go to waste and those working at the vaccination site are protected.
“The least that we want to happen is to have an outbreak at this site that we are performing the vaccination, that that would be a disaster,” Pino said.
Another concern is that there are currently more appointments in the system than there are vaccines in hand. Pino said 9,750 doses arrived on Monday and more shipments are expected in the future. The county has about 20,000 doses available at the moment.
“So that’s another reason why we paused the site because it was getting a large number of appointments that right now, today, we will not be able to sustain because we don’t have 70,000 doses of vaccine,” Pino said. “We are going to have it. We have no concerns about the distribution at this point.”
He expects registration to open on a weekly basis, depending on supply.
About 3% of the Orange County population has been vaccinated thus far but Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said there are plans to ramp up those efforts as quickly as possible.
He noted that President-elect Joe Biden will take office on Jan. 20 and wants to inoculate 100 million residents nationwide during his first 100 days in office.
“Presently, what is occurring on a daily basis throughout the country comes nowhere close to that number. So that means that if they continue with the strategy of distributing the vaccine to the states, they will have to significantly increase the number of doses that they are distributing within various states and then the state will have to redistribute that into the counties, in local communities throughout. I believe that we are prepared if we see a significant increase in the available supply of the vaccine in this community. We have contingency plans to be able to ramp up very quickly,” Demings said.
Other efforts in the works include setting up vaccination pods at the University of Central Florida and with Orange County Public Schools to vaccinate teachers 65 and older within the next few weeks.
Eventually, younger teachers could also receive shots in that same pod format but it’s unclear when that will happen.
Right now vaccines are only available to those 65 and older, health care employees, first responders and residents, and workers at long-term care facilities. Anyone who has contracted COVID-19 will need to wait at least 90 days after their diagnosis before getting the vaccine.
When more appointments are available at the Orange County Convention Center, registration information can be found at OCFL.net/vaccine.