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Pinellas County long-term care residents and staff begin to receive Covid vaccines

Jaymi Butler



covid vaccine

**This story has been updated to include new information on the Moderna vaccine

Residents and staff at Pinellas County long-term care facilities began receiving the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine Wednesday, and local health officials aim to visit all 68 facilities over the next five days to provide the vaccine to people who want it. 

“The vaccine is a gamechanger in the fight against this pandemic,” said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County during a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. 

Pinellas County is one of two Florida counties serving as pilots in administering the vaccine to long-term care facilities. Of the 20,000 doses provided to the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County received just over 10,700. The state is using strike teams from the DOH, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard to perform the injections. These teams visited 13 facilities Wednesday and were prepared to provide upward of 1,900 vaccinations, according to Choe, though a final count is pending.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Wednesday a historic day. 

“We’ve seen our share of loss in our long-term facilities and so this project and moving forward with the vaccinations is really critical to keeping folks alive and healthy,” Kriseman said. 

However, Kriseman, like Choe, noted that vaccines will not be widely available for everyone until well into 2021, and he urged residents not to get complacent or let their guard down.

“It’s really important we remain vigilant and smart, that we social distance and wear our masks and limit our travel and large gatherings, especially during the holidays,” Kriseman said. “Let’s keep everybody healthy so they can get that vaccination.”

On Monday, five hospital systems across the state received 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine – with 20,000 going to TGH – 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 on top of the 20,000 that were provided to the Florida Department of Health. According to a statement issued late Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis said Florida is preparing to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week pending expected F.D.A. approval. Those doses will go to 173 hospital locations that did not receive doses in the first allocation of the Pfizer vaccine. Locally, those locations include AdventHealth North Pinellas, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Largo Medical Center, Palms of Pasadena Hospital, St. Anthony’s Hospital, Mease Countryside Hospital, Mease Dunedin Hospital, Morton Plant Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital and St. Petersburg General Hospital.

Moffitt Cancer Center will receive about 500 doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from Tampa General Hospital for distribution Thursday for its frontline health care workers, who are at highest risk for exposure to the virus. Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, which will get 400 initial doses, will begin offering the vaccine to its staff Friday and will continue Tuesday, with similar plans underway at other Orlando Health facilities. Orlando Health purchased Bayfront in late September.

Despite positive news on the vaccine front, the county continues to see a high number of infections. The Florida Department of Health reported an additional 326 confirmed cases of Covid-19 Wednesday in Pinellas County, and nine more deaths. The county now has a cumulative total of 38,783 cases and 966 deaths due to Covid since March. The county’s two-week percent positivity rate stands at 7.05 percent.

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