‘Hell, yeah, I’m going’: Palm Beach seniors get COVID-19 vaccine while others wait

Vaccine rollout for seniors by county offices of the Florida health department has already begun statewide, though availability isn’t consistent from county to county.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis [ The Florida Channel ]
Published Dec. 30, 2020

DELRAY BEACH — One by one, seniors donning masks and clutching release forms walked up to a plastic table at the entrance of a conference room at the King’s Point retirement community in Delray Beach and picked up a fact sheet about Moderna vaccine, the newest coronavirus vaccine to come online in Florida.Then, they made their way to one of the dozen nurses dotting the room and rolled up their sleeves.

By the end of Wednesday, more than 300 are expected to get the shot in a move that follows a state pivot toward vaccinating seniors in the general public.

”I’m nervous about any side effects,” said longtime resident Bryna Stein, 65, who moved to King’s point in 1988 to care for her mother. “But we are a little city of our own here, and I know it can spread fast.”

So far, clinical trials have shown the vaccines are safe and cause only mild side effects similar to the flu shot in most recipients, though those with a history of anaphylaxis have been cautioned to consult a doctor by federal health officials.

While most of those already vaccinated are residents of long-term care facilities or healthcare workers, Gov. Ron DeSantis last Wednesday issued an executive order directing all vaccination efforts in the next phase to go toward people over age 65 and other patients with severe underlying conditions. South Florida hospitals have been following the directive, with Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach the first to schedule seniors for vaccinations. Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s public hospital, is announcing its plans to vaccinate more than 10,000 senior citizens on Wednesday.

DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday that Florida is the first state in the nation to mobilize county health departments to vaccinate seniors in their communities.

”Today, we are seeing that prioritization in practice,” he said. DeSantis said hospitals will be given “major allotments” of the vaccine to focus on inoculating senior members of the community, and county health departments will decide how and when to administer the vaccine in their counties.

As of Wednesday, a limited number of vaccines are being offered by county offices of the Florida Department of Health to seniors in the community in Miami-Dade, Lee, Escambia, Leon, Duval, Orange and Seminole counties. The rest are anticipated to get the Moderna vaccine soon, said DeSantis, who noted the state “will receive over 120,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine” this week.

”The supply is starting to come at a pretty good rhythm,” he said. “We kind of get the sense of what the needs are.”

The governor, 42, has not been vaccinated. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties all reported unprecedented highs in COVID-19 positivity rates Tuesday, with rates of 23.97 percent, 24.03 percent and 19.50 percent, respectively, according to the state health department, which attributed the record numbers to irregularities in reporting over the Christmas holiday.

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Two weeks of inoculations

Since the initial vaccine rollout in Florida’s nursing homes two weeks ago, more than 146,160 people — including the elderly, hospital and frontline workers — have received their first doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties leading the state with 19,232 and 16,435 people, respectively.

Vaccine rollout for seniors by county offices of the Florida health department has already begun statewide, though availability isn’t consistent from county to county. In Lee County, for example, vaccines were administered on a first-come, first-served basis Monday. Manatee County opened its site for seniors Wednesday.

Palm Beach County’s state health department director, Dr. Alina Alonso, told reporters that seniors should be patient, and that getting everyone 65 and older vaccinated in Florida can take a year. She said she has been in talks with state leaders about future expansion of vaccination sites, hopes that vaccinations can expand beyond small pods or communities. Instead, they could mimic the testing infrastructure that involved partnerships with local healthcare providers and the counties.

”Everybody can’t be first,” said Alonso, who has been vaccinated. “It’s going to take time.”

Alonso added that in the meantime, everyone should be wearing masks and socially distancing.

Stein, the resident who was sitting with longtime friend Maureen O’Hara, 68, said the residents got the call Tuesday that the governor was coming to town and that they could get a dose of the Moderna vaccine if they wanted to.

”They said DeSantis was coming and asked if I wanted the shot,” O’Hara said.

As seniors took their seats at plastic tables and rolled up their arms, many said they didn’t hesitate when they got the call Tuesday.

”Hell, yeah, I’m going,” said Anita Kolky, 71. “How soon can I go?”