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County waits for vaccine distribution

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Franklin County isn’t slated yet to receive Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine but health department staffers are getting ready for when it does.

“We’ve been receiving many calls about the vaccine and COVID-19 prevention. Rest assured that we are working closely with our local hospital, and emergency management, to prepare for mass vaccination projects for Franklin County,” read a news release issued by the county health department last week.

Franklin County health department logo

Securing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine is a top priority for the state of Florida. A COVID-19 vaccine will be a critical resource to preventing the further spread of the virus and allowing Floridians to return to the normal pace of life,” it read. “We encourage all Floridians and visitors to discuss the vaccine with their doctor if they have questions.”

In Gulf County, Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf is slated to be among 173 Florida hospitals that will soon receive doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, but it is not certain when they will become available.

In a news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office last week, the state said Florida is preparing to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, pending Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sacred Heart was among the 173 hospital locations in 43 counties on the list to receive the vaccine, as it had not received doses in the first allocation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“The state is able to distribute this vaccine to a large number of hospitals as the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage,” read the release.

“We do not know when a shipment of the Moderna vaccine will reach Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf, but it will likely arrive early next week,” wrote Mike Burke, an Ascension spokesman, wrote in an email last week. “We also don't know how much will be shipped to the hospital.

“We plan to give first priority to our hospital staff who are at greatest risk, including the nurses, doctors and support staff who have potential exposures in the emergency department or inpatient units,” he wrote.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will require a two-shot series, likely meaning that after the first shot, a second one will be administered about three weeks later.

“Allocation of these vaccines are being prioritized by the state emergency operations center and will first be available to hospital workers, healthcare staff and long-term care residents. These priority groups were selected since they are the most at-risk populations to contract the virus,” read the health department release.

“It’s worth noting that since the start of this pandemic, St. James Health and Rehabilitation Center hasn’t had one positive resident,” the release stressed. “They really need to be recognized for this because they’ve worked so hard to keep their residents safe and healthy. And now a vaccine is on its way.

“We don’t yet know when Franklin County will be allocated vaccines. The first round of vaccines are allocated to piloted hospitals and specific counties beginning this week, but as soon as vaccines are available for the public, we will make an announcement,” it continued. “We’ve been planning for this for a long time. We know how to do mass testing events and we are capable of handling mass vaccination events should we need to.”

Cross Shores Care Center in Port St. Joe is among the more than 1,000 facilities in the state that has seen an outbreak, with the state reporting 13 residents having tested positive for the coronavirus, although none have had to be transferred. In addition, one staffer has tested positive.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Franklin County has seen only nine cases among long-term care residents and staff, about 1 percent of all cases in the county, well below the 5 percent statewide.

In state correctional facilities in Franklin County, 352 inmates, or 42 percent of all cases, have contracted the coronavirus, a much higher percentage than the 2 percent statewide.

As of Monday, the county has seen 858 cases, all but 13 of them Florida residents. These cases have required just 11 hospitalization, 1 percent of all cases, and have resulted in four deaths, a percentage far below the 2 percent average statewide.

Among the county’s cases, about three-quarters of them have affected white, non-Hispanic persons, with about one-quarter of them affecting Black, non-Hispanic residents. Of the four deaths, all have been among whites.

The coronavirus has been worse among those age 55 to 84, who account for 52 percent of the hospitalizations and all of the deaths.

There has only been one hospitalization, and no deaths, among people age 54 or younger.

The Florida Department of Health Office of Communications has created a webpage for COVID-19 vaccine information for the public. Visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

Also, the statewide call center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can still be reached by dialing 1-866-779-6121 or emailing COVID-19@flhealth.gov.