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First round of COVID-19 vaccine doses expected in Florida next week

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Florida could receive up to 2 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine within days and will offer inoculations to high-contact health care workers in five urban hospitals next week and to at least 145,000 residents of 4,000 nursing homes and long-term care centers by month’s end, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed.

“We could have every resident of nursing homes and long-term care facilities vaccinated in December,” DeSantis said during a White House panel discussion. “That’s within our grasp right now.”

Florida Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees told hospital administrators Tuesday that vaccines will be shipped to five hospitals with cold-storage capacities: Jackson Memorial in Miami, AdventHealth in Orlando, Tampa General Hospital, UF Health Jacksonville and Broward County’s Memorial Healthcare System.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine’s emergency authorization Thursday or Friday. FDA officials said 40 million doses would ship within 24 hours of approval to states. The doses would be prorated by population.

Moderna is expected to receive approval for its vaccine when the FDA reviews its emergency authorization December 17. AstraZenica and Johnson & Johnson also have vaccines in the accelerated approval pipeline.

Florida’s proposed three-phase COVID-19 Vaccination Plan awaits approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the plan, the state “is using an integrated planning structure based on lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic, seasonal influenza vaccination activities and the recent Hepatitis A vaccination program.”

During the White House discussion Tuesday with Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, DeSantis said Florida will get the vaccine into 2,000 nursing homes and long-term care centers with the assistance of Walgreens and CVS, to “high-risk frontline health care workers,” to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions “to the extent we have enough.”

Once the state’s 368,000 nursing home and long-term care center residents and nearly 500,000 health care workers are served, the focus will expand, he said.

“At the end of December, we can start getting it out into the broader senior population. And then (in) January, really focus on vaccinating as many elderly people as we can,” DeSantis said, noting Florida tentatively plans to deploy Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine – potentially available by February – for teachers and law enforcement.

“No one will be mandated to take the vaccine. This will be available, but not mandated,” he said.

Florida began planning for vaccine distribution in July, DeSantis said, and has purchased 5 million syringes, 5 million needles and 5 million alcohol swabs in preparation.

Logistics and misinformation pose the greatest challenges, officials acknowledge.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit) and requires two doses 21 days apart. Moderna’s vaccine must be stored at minus-20 degrees Celsius (minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit) and requires two doses 28 days apart.

Vaccine skepticism will be more difficult to navigate. Florida ranks 49th in the nation in flu vaccination rate at 45%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. HHS maintains for flu vaccinations to be effective, 70 percent of the population must be inoculated.

That same percentage is necessary for the COVID-19 vaccine to be effective, according to the CDC.

“These findings suggest there may be significant challenges to achieving equity in distribution and sufficient levels of immunity in the U.S. with a COVID-19 vaccine,” Kaiser concludes.

The vaccine has “been politicized, unfortunately,” DeSantis said. “That’s going to be something people are going to have to deal with. I hope we can get on the same page here (and) take politics out of it.”

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