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Though vaccines are coming, health officials urge residents to ‘stay the course’ to fight Covid

Jaymi Butler

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Covid vaccine

With two new Covid-19 vaccines poised to receive F.D.A. authorization, there’s a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but Pinellas County health officials warn it’s going to take a long time before herd immunity is achieved. 

“We can’t stop wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing,” Gayle Guidash, assistant director for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, told city council members at a meeting Thursday, adding that the vaccine may not work for everyone. “We need to stay the course and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Guidash’s comments came shortly after the state’s Department of Health reported another 543 new cases of Covid-19 in Pinellas County and one additional death. 

According to a statement released by Governor Ron DeSantis Thursday, the federal government has allocated Florida 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which the F.D.A. is expected to authorize Friday night. He anticipates receiving the initial doses within the week.

Locally, Tampa General Hospital is expecting to receive doses of the Pfizer two-dose vaccine sometime this week or next as part of the state’s pilot program to fight the global coronavirus. The vaccine stored at Tampa General will only be available to TGH physicians and staff at greatest risk for exposure to Covid in the workplace. If the vaccine supply received allows for it, once the initial group of TGH workers have begun to receive the vaccination, TGH will supply partner hospitals – AdventHealth, BayCare, Bayfront, HCA and Moffitt – with the vaccine for their first phase group of healthcare workers.

DeSantis said that the first people to get the vaccine will be long-term care facility residents and employees as well as healthcare workers. Next in line will be elderly residents as well as those who may have significant comorbidities, making them high risk for complications from the virus.

  • 97,500 doses will be sent to hospitals to administer vaccine to high-contact and high-exposure health care personnel.
  • 60,450 doses of vaccine will be sent to CVS and Walgreens for use in long-term care facilities. Both companies are under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer vaccines inside those facilities.
  • 21,450 doses of vaccine will go directly to the Florida Department of Health. The state will be using strike teams from the DOH, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard to go into long-term care facilities and administer the vaccine in areas with a high concentration of facilities.

Research on children and the vaccine has started to be done, and so far, it seems to be as safe in young people as it is for adults, according to Dr. Israel Wojnowich, who also spoke to city council. 

Guidash said that one of the main concerns surrounding the vaccine is that some people have said they won’t take it and others are taking a wait and see approach. There are discussions about having high-level health officials like DOH director Dr. Ulyee Choe take the vaccine and talk about what the experience is like to show their confidence level in the treatment. Guidash said Choe has indicated he will take the vaccine. 

“We all want to hear that from medical experts,” Guidash said. 

There’s also talk of reaching out to nontraditional community leaders to get vaccinated and share their thoughts in an effort to convince those who might be on the fence about it to get the vaccine. And for those who are opposed to it, Guidash said it’s important to ask them why they feel that way to open up a dialog that will hopefully allay some of their concerns.

The bottom line, though, is there is hope on the horizon. 

“We’ll get there,” Guidash said. “It’s just going to take awhile.”

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