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‘Interest is strong’ in Covid vaccine, public health officials say

Jaymi Butler

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covid vaccine
Covid-19 vaccines will first go to frontline healthcare personnel and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

While Covid-19 vaccines won’t be available to most Floridians until at least February, public health officials are already looking at strategies to assure people that it’s safe to get vaccinated. 

“We’re working closely with everyone – the county and cities and the Urban League and the business community,” said Tom Iovino, public information officer for the Pinellas County Health Department.

The good news is that people seem to be more willing to get the vaccine than they were just a few months ago. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released Tuesday, 71 percent of Americans said they would “definitely” or “probably” get a vaccine if it was determined to be safe by scientists and available for free to everyone who wanted it, up from 63 percent from September. The numbers were also encouraging among Black adults, a group that has been generally hesitant to get vaccinated. Sixty-two percent said they’d be willing to receive the vaccine, a number that stood at 50 percent three months ago.

Locally, interest has also been strong. 

“People have been emailing and calling to ask if they can get it,” Iovino said. “We are telling them that there will be opportunities to get it later.”

Florida received its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine Monday. Nearly 100,000 doses went to five hospital systems across the state, including Tampa General Hospital, and will be used to vaccinate high-contact and high-exposure health care personnel. Another 60,000 were sent to CVS and Walgreens for distribution to long-term care facility residents and employees, and 20,000 were provided to the Florida Department of Health. 

Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday that the state is supposed to receive several hundred thousand more doses of the vaccine in the next two weeks, although it’s not certain at this point due to possible production issues. Additionally, Florida could receive 300,000 to 400,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the beginning of next week pending F.D.A. approval. 

Once those groups have been vaccinated, the next people in line will be elderly residents as well as those who may have significant comorbidities that put them at high risk for complications from the virus. 

While the number of people who are eager to get vaccinated is a good sign, there are still plenty who are opposed to it, or are taking a “wait and see” approach. The Kaiser report found that two of the top reasons people are hesitant to get the vaccine are concerns over side effects, because of the speed in which the vaccine was developed. Iovino said he’s heard similar sentiments and he and his colleagues are working hard to address them. 

“From the evidence we’ve seen, the vaccine shows very few side effects, and they’re the same ones you’d get from any vaccine,” he said. “We’re telling people that the benefits far outweigh any mild side effects.”

Iovino is hopeful that as people see the first wave of healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents get vaccinated without incident, they’ll be more inclined to follow suit. He encourages those who still have concerns to read up on the vaccine on the CDC website or, better yet, talk to their doctor and ask questions. 

Until the vaccine becomes more widely available, though, Iovino stressed the importance of continuing to wear a mask, wash hands and practice social distancing, especially as the holiday season ramps up. 

“We’re so close right now and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We just need to be patient for a little longer.”

 

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