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As federal coronavirus vaccine site opens in Tampa, some get Johnson & Johnson shots

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new pop-up vaccine sites in Tampa Bay and said that that two Walgreens stores in Pasco County are offering doses to eligible Floridians.
Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Mar. 3
Updated Mar. 3

Some Tampa Bay residents were among the first in the state to get a Johnson & Johnson coronavirus shot Wednesday at the new federal vaccine site in Tampa.

The new site, at the Tampa Greyhound Track, 755 E. Waters Ave., is offering first- and second-dose Pfizer shots as well as some doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines, said Hallie Anderson, external affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Anderson said the walk-up site, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, had administered about 400 shots by 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Related: New federal vaccine site opens in Tampa

Gov. Ron DeSantis, during a news conference Wednesday morning, said he expects Florida to soon receive a shipment of 175,000 Johnson & Johnson doses, although he said he wasn’t sure whether they would arrive by the end of the week.

“It’s a great vaccine because it’s one dose. You don’t have to come back for a booster, and it was 100 percent effective at preventing deaths and hospitalizations in the clinical trials,” said DeSantis, who has previously said he’d take a Johnson & Johnson shot.

DeSantis traveled to Pasco County on Wednesday to announce that the state was holding a pop-up vaccination site for three days at the SunTrust Bank Building in Zephyrhills to try to get more doses to seniors 65 and older. DeSantis said 3,300 shots will be offered in total at this location. Another pop-up location, at the Four Lakes community in Polk County, will also distribute 3,300 shots over the next three days, DeSantis said.

Related: DeSantis dropped off 3,000 vaccines to a Pinellas senior community. But was the distribution fair?

He also announced that two Walgreens stores in Pasco County — at 12028 Majestic Blvd. in Hudson and 6429 Gall Blvd. in Zephyrhills — will start administering the vaccine shots beginning Friday. He said the stores will be able to handle about 80 appointments a day on weekdays and about 60 on weekends.

The addition of the Walgreens stores is part of an expansion of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in Florida. Walgreens is the latest to be added to the list of participating retailers in the state, joining Walmart, Southeastern Grocers (the parent company of Winn-Dixie), Publix and CVS. Doses distributed as part of the federal retail pharmacy program are separate from the allocation given to Florida each week.

Walgreens has already been involved in administering coronavirus vaccines in Florida. Beginning in December, it and CVS were tasked with getting doses to residents and staff of long-term care facilities throughout the state.

Wednesday is also the first day that people aged 50 or older who are K-12 school employees, sworn law enforcement officers or firefighters are eligible for the vaccine in Florida. DeSantis said his administration wants to partner with sheriff’s offices, school districts and others to offer special vaccination clinics to reach these groups.

“I think we could get through a lot of these people very quickly,” DeSantis said.

When asked, DeSantis said he’d be supportive of getting vaccines to daycare workers.

“We may have to change the order,” he said. “That would be totally reasonable to include them.”

Related: Florida police, firefighters and teachers 50+ to get vaccine, DeSantis says

Meanwhile, the state has now released a form for physicians to use to attest that a patient is “extremely vulnerable” to the coronavirus and should be eligible for a dose, even if they aren’t 65 or older or fall into a different eligibility category.

People with such forms are now eligible to get vaccines from pharmacies or from some physicians or registered nurses who have vaccine doses available. Before, people with underlying health conditions that put them at risk were only able to get doses from hospitals.

DeSantis said Wednesday that the state is leaving it to doctors to decide who is “extremely vulnerable.”

“We’re really putting that in the hands of the medical doctors rather than us arbitrarily picking and choosing” which underlying conditions should and shouldn’t be considered, DeSantis said. He added, “We think trusting our doctors is the way to go.”

DeSantis said he didn’t expect to see any “funny business” with this model, saying that “physicians, they have to sign their names to this” and said doctors have seen how the virus has impacted people in different ways.

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