New rollout rules stir worry about second doses in Florida and Tampa Bay

“I don’t have any information to guarantee whether production will then keep up for second shots,” said Florida’s director of emergency management.
OnSite Safe Nurse Joan Diehl prepares COVID-19 vaccinations at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, one of the vaccination distrubition sites in Hillsborough County, in Plant City on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
OnSite Safe Nurse Joan Diehl prepares COVID-19 vaccinations at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, one of the vaccination distrubition sites in Hillsborough County, in Plant City on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 14, 2021|Updated Jan. 16, 2021

Colleen Herlihy felt like she won the lottery when she got her first dose of coronavirus vaccine. But now the 69-year-old Hillsborough County resident worries about whether she will have access to her second shot.

President Donald Trump’s administration this week announced a number of changes to the nation’s vaccine rollout. That included making all vaccine supply immediately available to states, instead of holding back second doses to be sent later — a move President-elect Joe Biden had previously said he would make upon taking office.

Florida officials have said they are committed to getting the boosters to Floridians. But they’ve also criticized the federal government for poor communication about how many doses the state will receive and when.

State director of emergency management Jared Moskowitz pointed to those issues Thursday, suggesting they’ve contributed to the chaos surrounding Florida’s rollout. He said that so far, second doses have been arriving as expected, but the new process creates even more uncertainty.

“I don’t have any information to guarantee whether production will then keep up for second shots,” Moskowitz told state legislators. “That’s information the federal government will have to provide.”

Hospital officials in Tampa Bay and across the state this week have raised concerns about getting second doses to their staff and patients, citing uncertainty about how many vaccines they’ll get week to week.

Related: Florida hospitals worry about second dose supply after vaccine accouncement

As of Thursday, more than 72,000 people in Florida had gotten both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, according to state data. Another 23,000 people had gotten one shot but were overdue for their second dose.

Both of the coronavirus vaccines approved in the United States require two doses per person to be fully effective. Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be three weeks apart and Moderna doses should be four weeks apart. Experts, however, say it’s not critical that second doses be administered in exactly those time frames.

“Florida is committed to the two-dose regimen,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement Thursday. “This means that while the manner of distribution may change, the necessity of the booster shot will not.”

Herlihy said she has tried to reach out to the Hillsborough health department and various officials to try to get assurances that her second dose will be waiting for her. “I’m getting the idea that they think it’s going to happen but whether or not that’s 100 percent sure, I don’t know,” she said.

A Hillsborough spokesman said Thursday that people who have gotten first doses and have appointments for second doses should still expect that their appointments will be honored, adding that, “if that changes, we’ll communicate with you.”

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Related: Second doses of COVID-19 vaccines begin Florida rollout

Dr. Bob Keenan, chief medical officer of Moffitt Cancer Center, said many health systems across Florida are concerned about receiving sufficient supply to administer second doses in time.

“Ultimately we are dependent on the federal release of vaccines to the states for distribution,” Keenan said. “The state continues to reassure us that we will receive the second dose shipments and we look forward to that happening.”

BayCare Health System said Thursday that it expected to receive all the second doses it needs. By the afternoon, however, the system sent out an update that it was pausing new appointments for vaccinations due to lack of supply.

“After so many months of fighting this pandemic, many, many of us want to participate in vaccinations to help our community become safer,” said chief operating officer Glenn Waters. “But the stop-start process will likely continue until the nation’s vaccine supply and administration capacity fully matures.”

A spokeswoman for AdventHealth West Florida Division did not directly answer questions about the hospital system’s supply but said it is “on schedule” to provide second doses as planned.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg initially said this week it would run out of doses Friday and had no information on when it would receive more. But on Thursday afternoon, it said it had received additional doses that will be used to give people second shots.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both are about 50 percent effective after a first dose, and protection goes up to more than 90 percent with a second. The first shot primes the body’s immune response, while the second dose amplifies recognition and immune response.

While the schedules for each of the vaccines do not need to be strictly adhered to, they are based on the timelines studied during clinical trials. Experts say not following those schedules comes with a lot of unknowns.

Health authorities in Britain recently said they will delay second doses of their approved vaccines in order to give out more first-round doses. Scientists and politicians in other parts of the world have debated doing the same.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title for Glenn Waters, chief operating officer of BayCare Health Systems. It also incorrectly stated when the health system expected to receive more first doses.

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