To no one’s surprise, and everyone’s delight, vaccinations have begun in Franklin and Gulf counties.
With an allotment of 1,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine for the Florida Department of Health that serves the two counties, split equally between the two, the health department began last week making appointments, and within a short couple days all the appointments had been booked.
The department now is hoping that the age 65 and older crowd will make their appointments online, with Franklin County residents asked to go to https://tinyurl.com/ya6vanjl and Gulf County to https://tinyurl.com/y9x6h86a
“We really appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to help administer vaccine to folks in our communities,” said Sarah Quaranta, administrator over the department. “We are working as hard as we can to meet the need in our counties.”
The priority, ahead of those age 65 and older, were health care workers. Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf was the first hospital on the Forgotten Coast to receive the vaccines, and the earliest to vaccinate its staff, as early as Dec. 22.
As of end of day Monday, Gulf County had injected 123 people, about twice as many as Franklin, which had reached 60. Those numbers are expected to shoot up in the days to come as the health department, both hospitals and CVS push forward with their painless needle-jabbing.
In his order last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to work with health departments to identify state-run COVID-19 testing sites that can convert into vaccine sites. Quaranta said all COVID-19 registered providers in Florida Shots can administer the vaccine, such as Ascension, Weems Memorial Hospital in Apalachicola, North Florida Medical Center, PanCare and others. “We will coordinate with these entities as their vaccine shipments arrive,” she said.
Weems CEO David Walker said the hospital received a separate allotment of 200 doses, to cover Weems entire staff, with some extra. Because the hospital operates two clinics, in Carrabelle and Apalachicola, it was able to enable new primary care doctor David Newton M.D. and Dana Whaley ARNP to schedule those patients most at risk and in need of protection for the vaccine.
“We want to get shots in the arms,” he said. “We have to be very creative in how we do things.”
He said that as part of reaching health care providers, emergency medical units under the county’s auspices have gone to the homes of volunteer medical first responders and administered the vaccine.
Walker said he is pushing for setting in motion a process where the vaccine can be administered to the homebound seniors who may have a challenge getting to a vaccination site.
“That’s the goal, that’s my vision, to serve people who cannot come out of the house,” he said.
“We are exploring opportunities to work with EMS and their community-driven model to administer vaccines as well in Franklin County,” Quaranta said.
Walker said state officials are advising providers to move forward with vaccination and not to hold back. “The state told us ‘Don’t worry about the second doses,”” he said. “The state is telling us ‘Vaccinate your people.’”
“Some hospitals are already getting second doses,” Walker added. “We want to position ourselves. The rural counties sometimes are overlooked.”
DeSantis also made it a priority to reach out to places of worship and other locations in underserved communities. “We’re working closely with our faith-based entities and community partners to keep them informed about vaccine availability,” said Quaranta.
While the governor has said that an additional 1,000 contract nurses could be hired throughout the state to support vaccination efforts, she said she didn’t see that as an immediate need for the two counties. “As funding allows, we are hopeful to have additional support, but will continue to work with our partners to administer vaccines in our communities,” she said.
Long-term care facilities are a priority for the state, and CVS staffers are being counted on to deliver the vaccines to the area’s facilities.
According to state data, which is labeled as the “the current available information reported by each facility's staff (via) the Agency for Health Care Administration's Emergency Status System,” Cross Shores Care Center nursing home in Port St. Joe had five cases among residents. as of Monday afternoon.
Our Home at Beacon Hill assisted living facility had 14 resident cases, two of which required transfers, and six cases among staff, all as of Saturday afternoon.
St. James Bay Health and Rehab is not listed on the report, which prompted the health department last month to include praise in its release for having zero cases.
Each of these three facilities’ numbers are described as “not cumulative but reflects the information available for current residents and staff.”
Quaranta said that at the time the press release was sent, there were no cases at the Franklin County long term facility.
“Unfortunately, St. James did recently experience positive staff and residents and are working closely with the health department, as well as their regulatory agency (AHCA), to isolate individuals exposed and contain the virus, the same process and partnership used in all long term facilities that have experienced positive cases,” she said.
“On the statewide report available to the public, it shows 29 cases. The facility is also expected to receive the first COVID-19 vaccination this week for residents and staff,” she said.
In Gulf County there have been so far 101 cases in long-term care facilities, 7 percent, which is two percentage points higher than the statewide average.
In Gulf County, as of Tuesday morning, 1,389 peoples, very few of them non-Florida residents, had tested positive since the pandemic began, and among these 72 hospitalizations and 28 deaths, both in keeping with the 5 percent and 2 percent rates statewide.
In Franklin, there have been 964 cases, 12 hospitalizations and four deaths, both well below the state averages.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Older crowd lines up for their vaccinations