Orange County working with colleges to vaccinate students as more variant cases spread

UCF, Rollins receiving vaccine doses for on-campus clinics

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – With vaccine eligibility now expanded to include anyone 16 and older in the state of Florida, Orange County leaders are working to get more people in the 18 to 25-year-old age range inoculated.

Mayor Jerry Demings announced Monday that the county is partnering with the University of Central Florida and Rollins College to provide vaccine doses to those schools for their students.

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“This age group accounts for a high positivity rate. So vaccinating and working within the outreach for this group is essential,” Demings said.

Rollins will begin vaccinating its students on campus starting Tuesday with UCF rolling out operations the following day. The mayor did not say how many days this vaccination effort would last or the total number of doses that will be provided, but UCF tweeted that the school had received enough doses to vaccinate 6,000 students.

The mayor promised to have some younger Orange County residents who will be vaccinated at the next news briefing, to serve as an example to other 18 to 25-year-olds.

“On Thursday, we’re going to bring some youth in — college students and others — who will get vaccinated. And we hope that that serves as a symbol to other young people that they too should not be afraid of getting vaccinated. We need them to get vaccinated within our community as well,” Demings said.

In addition to reaching out to younger residents, the mayor also teased plans to bring vaccines to more neighborhoods in Orange County.

“This week, it appears that the available inventory is going to increase significantly. Once we really receive the doses, we have a plan of action here in Orange County, where we will do mobile pods,” Demings said. “We’re going to strategically go into communities where perhaps there’s an underserved population, or where we are seeing geographically where there’s a lag in people getting vaccinated.”

Demings said more details on the mobile pods could come by the end of the week but did not elaborate further.

At the same time, the county’s primary vaccination site at the Orange County Convention Center has delivered more than 200,000 vaccinations, according to epidemiologist Alvina Chu from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. Chu also talked about the ongoing spread of COVID-19 variants in the county, including the first two cases of the variant first detected in South Africa, B.1.351.

“They (the patients) lived in the same household, and there was no reported travel and no known exposures to other lab-positive cases,” Chu said.

The doctor explained that studies have shown this variant to be 50% more contagious and comes with increased severity of illness.

“You always ask, ‘Should we be concerned?’ So, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t concerned but concerned isn’t panic,” Chu said. “So, as we get the vaccines rolled out to as many people as possible, we hope that people continue to do the pandemic precautions so that we can contain the spread of the outbreak.”

According to the CDC, Florida has at least 24 confirmed cases of the B.1.351 variant.

The mayor said that the spread of these variant cases would factor into any decision by the county to end its mask mandates; however, Demings added that he remains optimistic that the mandate could end by the summer.

“The mask mandate will end, I think, as we get closer to maybe 50% of our overall total population, having been vaccinated and dependent upon how soon we get the shots in the arms of people we will make that determination,” Demings said. “Suffice it to say I believe that by the time we get to June... perhaps we should be there at that point. We’ll see.”

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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.