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Florida COVID vaccinations plummet as delta variant toll wanes

Infections and deaths continue to decline, but first-dose vaccinations haven’t been this low since January.
Medical personnel wait to conduct COVID-19 testing in Miami on Sept. 1
Medical personnel wait to conduct COVID-19 testing in Miami on Sept. 1 [ CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP | Getty Images North America ]
Published Oct. 1
Updated Oct. 2

Florida’s delta surge is waning as deaths and infections continue falling, but any relief is tempered by a troubling trend:

Vaccinations have taken a nose-dive.

There were 278,891 vaccinations administered in the past week, new state data shows. But more than 108,000 of those were either Pfizer booster shots or third doses given to those already vaccinated.

Only 63,803 people rolled up their sleeves for their first COVID shot in the past week. That’s a 62 percent fall from the 168,000 people who finally decided to get vaccinated four weeks ago when the delta-fueled wave was at its peak.

It’s also the lowest number of first-dose vaccinations reported since January, when the vaccine rollout started and doses were hard to come by for the few who were eligible.

Florida saw 37,772 infections over a seven-day period through Sept.30. That is the lowest since it’s been early July. The state recorded 1,719 deaths — most of which occurred more than seven days ago.

The latest vaccination data shows a pattern that has been seen time and again throughout the pandemic, said University of Florida epidemiologist Thomas Hladish. People tend only to react and take precautions like getting vaccinated, masking or social distancing when there is a surge of new infections.

“The best way to make an epidemic wave smaller is to do the bulk of mitigation efforts up front,” he said. “But it’s human nature to see a threat and react.”

Related: She has Down syndrome, then got COVID. Could Amanda Hall learn to walk again?

The fall in the number of newly vaccinated comes despite some local hospital systems, including BayCare, announcing they will mandate vaccines for workers in line with new federal rules for institutions that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The Biden administration announced on Sept. 9 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will draft rules requiring firms with more than 100 workers to either mandate vaccines or enforce weekly testing.

Statewide, roughly 71 percent of eligible Floridians ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, the state says. The vaccine has not yet been approved for children 11 and under. However, just 57 percent of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.

Infections are at a 13-week low. But cases are up across the Northeast and Midwest, suggesting that Florida may not have seen the last of the coronavirus.

“If history is any example, we can be confident that there is going to be another wave,” Hladish said. “It’s a lot easier to get people vaccinated now than to wait for our healthcare system to get swamped again. This isn’t the time to be taking our foot off the gas.”

Related: USF experts urge pregnant women to get vaccinated, debunk COVID misinformation

Flu season is another concern. Pandemic protocols like masks and social distancing disrupted the flu last year, but a return is likely now that those measures have been relaxed and students have returned to schools. Getting one virus could weaken the immune system and leave someone vulnerable to the other, so experts recommend getting a flu shot and COVID vaccine entering the fall and winter months.

Other indicators show the delta wave receding across Florida. The state’s positivity rate dropped to 6.5 percent, down from 8.6 percent the week before. Florida hospitals had 5,146 confirmed COVID patients on Friday, down 28 percent from last week.

Hospitals in Tampa Bay are continuing to see the number of COVID admissions fall.

AdventHealth reported 250 COVID patients across the 11 hospitals in its West Florida Division. At the peak of the delta surge, it dealt with more than 600 patients.

That has allowed the hospital chain to start contacting patients who were on wait lists for elective surgeries that were suspended as staffers and beds were reallocated to deal with COVID.

“All of our hospitals have returned to some level of elective procedures,” said spokeswoman Ashley Jeffrey.

Related: Florida protected nursing homes from COVID lawsuits. Then cases began to spike.

COVID admissions are also down at Tampa General Hospital, which on Friday reported 70 infected patients admitted for care, including 29 in intensive care.

The number of children testing positive at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has also declined, said Danielle Caci, public relations manager.

Roughly 240 children tested positive for the virus in September, down from 516 cases in August. Most of those were children brought to the emergency room by worried parents who were later discharged. The hospital reported just three COVID admissions as of Friday.

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