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Pinellas County to vaccinate seniors next week, official says

Florida counties are developing their own coronavirus vaccine roll-out plans.

Pinellas County had administered more than 12,300 first-round doses of the coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday, according to officials, including doses administered by the county health department, hospitals and employees of CVS and Walgreens pharmacies working in area nursing homes.

As Tampa Bay residents await word on when they can get a coronavirus vaccination, each county is working on its own plan.

Pinellas has been slower in its distribution than some neighboring counties, but “we don’t want to do this fast, we want to do this right,” said Tom Iovino, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

“We’re starting from zero,” said Iovino, who notes that the county is still finalizing details of its vaccination plans. “Once we have the information, we will be able to provide it.”

“We’re asking people to remain patient,” he said.

Related: ‘Absolute chaos:’ Floridians want coronavirus vaccine answers

None of the vaccine doses received so far from the state has gone to waste, according to Iovino. The county is unable to break down the number of people vaccinated by profession — such as firefighters, police officers or health care workers — just as it would not be able to do so for the seasonal influenza vaccine, he said.

Pinellas was selected as one of the first two counties in Florida to vaccinate residents of nursing homes. Among the county’s 68 facilities, 6,700 staff and residents have been vaccinated, according to a media release Wednesday from the county health department.

The next priority is creating a plan for the general public aged 65 and older. Those vaccinations are scheduled to begin Jan. 5, Iovino said.

The county will use a reservation system allowing individuals to schedule a time in advance and “know that there’s a vaccination waiting for them,” Iovino said. The goal is to limit waste and ensure that those waiting in line won’t be turned away, he said.

People will be allowed to register online and by phone. The phone number and website address have not been released, but are expected to go live at noon on Jan. 4. Priority for this phase will be based on an individual’s ability to secure a reservation slot.

Pinellas County has yet to receive a shipment of vaccine from the state for this phase, Iovino said, and is not certain how many doses it will get. The county has not received a finalized vaccination plan from the state and has access only to the state’s draft plan published in October, he said.

The county health department is trying to field calls from the community and is working with Pinellas County Emergency Management officials to recruit additional operators, due to the high call demand.

People who call the Pinellas health department today will be told the plan is being formalized. When it is, the department will share information on social media and county websites and will inform local media, faith communities and organizations such as the Pinellas County Urban League, Iovino said.

As more doses come in, the county will work with commercial pharmacies, doctors’ offices and clinics to become vaccination sites, he said.

The state publishes an updated number of people vaccinated by county each day. Pinellas County will not be publishing its own data separately.

Related: Florida adds 13,871 coronavirus cases, 139 deaths Wednesday

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