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About 800,000 Florida seniors still aren’t vaccinated

An advocate worries that those 85 and older are having trouble getting access to shots. Local officials say access is available.
Joseph Leblanc receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Jan. 19, at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Joseph Leblanc receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Jan. 19, at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published May 1

About 831,000 Florida seniors remained unvaccinated for the coronavirus, as of Wednesday — four months after the state opened vaccine access to all adults 65 and older.

The start of Florida’s vaccine rollout was rocky, but seniors now can walk in to their local Walgreens or Publix and get a shot or book an appointment for one. The state also had vaccinated 20,800 homebound residents as of Wednesday, many of them seniors, according the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

About 81 percent of Floridians 65 and older — about 3.6 million people — had received at least one dose of the vaccine by Wednesday, according to the Florida Department of Health. More than 3 million seniors were fully vaccinated.

Local advocates and officials blame barriers to access and vaccine hesitancy for the less-than-full vaccination rate among Florida seniors.

Across Tampa Bay, more than 148,000 people 65 and older in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties had not received a coronavirus shot by Wednesday, according to state data.

There’s a significant age gap in vaccinations among the 65-plus population, said Jeff Johnson, state director for AARP. As of Monday, nearly 84 percent of those between 65 and 74 years old had received the vaccine, but only 70 percent of those 85 and older were vaccinated, he said.

“That’s a huge gap,” Johnson said. “What that says to me is that this is not necessarily about hesitancy, it’s about access.” People who are homebound, can’t navigate the registration system or don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes might still be left out, he said.

Lindsay Peterson, research assistant professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida, agreed that some people do not have transportation or have health issues that keep them from going out for a shot.

But a good portion of Florida’s unvaccinated seniors likely are hesitant, she said. Florida has provided good access to shots, she added, and some seniors who live in long-term care facilities declined to get vaccinated. The state provided on-site vaccination clinics at all long-term care facilities early this year.

As of Wednesday, 29 percent of nursing home residents and nearly 7 percent of assisted-living residents — about 24,000 residents, in total — had not been vaccinated, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Hillsborough

As of Wednesday, 82 percent of Hillsborough’s 206,498 seniors had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the state, leaving more than 36,000 unvaccinated.

“The majority of those people are those who haven’t elected to get vaccinated,” wrote Kevin Watler, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County in an email. “If someone wants the vaccine, there’s a way for them to get vaccinated.”

The county’s Targeted Vaccine Area initiative, which focuses on seniors, had vaccinated nearly 27,300 residents at 116 locations as of Sunday, according to the department, and the county had vaccinated 939 homebound residents. This week, the county rescinded the need for a vaccine appointment, removing another barrier to access.

Pinellas

As of Wednesday, nearly 75 percent of Pinellas’ 247,636 seniors had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the state, leaving nearly 63,000 seniors unvaccinated.

“There’s wide vaccine availability for anyone that wants to be protected,” wrote Maggie Hall, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County in an email. “Our three county-run sites, the state site in Clearwater, dozens of pharmacies and the federal site in Tampa are all open for appointments.”

The department is still providing shots at faith- and community-based locations and to homebound residents, Hall said.

Pasco

As of Wednesday, nearly 74 percent of Pasco’s 124,451 seniors had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the state, leaving nearly 33,000 unvaccinated.

“With this local availability, we feel that everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get it,” wrote Melissa Watts, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. “At the federal, state and local level, there are concerns with vaccine hesitancy, and the Johnson & Johnson pause has fostered further concerns.”

The department is working with organizations that have relationships with seniors to encourage them to get vaccinated.

Hernando

As of Wednesday, nearly 70 percent of Hernando’s 52,875 seniors had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the state, leaving nearly 16,000 unvaccinated.

The Florida Department of Health in Hernando County began to schedule first doses exclusively over-the-phone this week, to help remove technological hurdles, wrote Ashley Thomas, spokesperson for the department, in an email. Residents also can walk in or schedule shots at Pinebrook Pharmacy, 14111 Cortez Blvd. in Brooksville, or have a pharmacist bring a shot to their home.

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