ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Now that COVID-19 vaccines have been offered in Orange County for a few weeks, health officials believe they’ll soon be ready to begin expanding their efforts.
That will include offering 300 more appointments per day at the Orange County Convention Center, holding vaccination events at local churches and hosting a closed pod for school board employees, according to Dr. Raul Pino, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
That closed pod will take place on Jan. 24 and will provide shots to 800 teachers and other employees 65 and older. Pino and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings didn’t offer further details about the location of that event or how to register.
Pino is also waiting to provide an update on when residents can expect to see additional daily appointments open up at the convention center site. He said county officials need to make sure all the plans are in place and doses are in hand before those slots become available.
“We have not opened the schedule yet because we’re working on some details, among those details was our inventory of vaccines. Today we got 16,000 Moderna vaccine doses for the second dosage of the first 16,000 that we got. So if you got a Moderna in the first time that you came to us, we have secured your second dosage and you will come the day of your appointment. We continue to have Pfizer. We have received a total 29,975 dosage of Pfizer,” Pino said Thursday.
The convention center site is vaccinating about 1,500 people a day. On Friday, the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said appointments, which can be made here, have been increased to 2,000 per day for a limited amount of days.
Those who do come to the convention center site should keep in mind that they don’t get to choose which vaccine they receive since that depends on what’s available and other factors designed to make sure that every shot gets used.
“We have little discretion on what we give at the site for the first dosage because what we have in inventory is what we’ll give you. We will have no ability for the first dosage to let you select which vaccine you want. They are both very similar. They have the same efficiency and efficacy that has been described,” Pino said.
One way residents can help cut down the risk of waste is to cancel their appointment if they’re unable to attend since the shots are pulled in advance and they can’t be returned to the bottle once they’ve been drawn.
As far as vaccinating at churches, Pino didn’t have a timeline for when that effort could begin. He said EMS and firefighters have been doing a great job thus far on getting shots out so they will likely have a major role at those sites.
“So the churches are going to be done probably on Sundays, or afternoons, so that the members can participate and it will be a mix between the fire department EMS and ourselves, and they are a force multiplier. And let me tell you, and I know my nurses are going to be not happy with this, but are the EMS right now at the convention center are the best vaccinators. They are faster, they can do two vehicles at the same time and are the ones that never want to leave, don’t want to take the break,” Pino said.
Orange County’s leading doctor noted on Thursday that while the pandemic is far from over, he is starting to see some data he hopes could be an indication of improvements to come.
“We have seen some signs of hope in the data ... glimpses of hope, it’s just a glimpse of hope. That’s why we are insisting for everyone to please, please adhere to CDC guidelines, wear your mask even if you were vaccinated, watch your distance and wash your hands and clean surfaces at home as often as possible,” he said.
The “glimpse of hope,” according to Pino, is that there’s been a small decrease in hospitalizations and ER visits.
On the flip side, there’s been an increase in the number of patients in the ICU and the death rate. Pino said there’s generally a lag in those figures.
“So there are some signs in the data, but death rate and mortality rate and ICU hospitalization rate runs behind so it will take us two or three weeks to see those rates declining if hospitalizations continue to decline,” Pino said.
Another change in the recent data is the highest positivity rate is among patients 5 to 14 years old.
“Those are school-aged children but we know through our interview process that the infections are being acquired out in the community,” Pino said. “And we know how difficult it is to control the kids, I have two, but we ask you for an effort to control your children’s activities.”
While children aren’t as likely to experience severe symptoms if they contract the deadly respiratory illness, they can pass it on to more vulnerable adults.
Since March, Orange County has reported 89,539 COVID-19 cases, 2,072 hospitalizations and 823 deaths.