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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Alachua County leaders outline COVID-19 vaccination plan

Gainesville City Commission approves plan for distributing vaccine at first meeting of the year

<p>Mike Foley, UF journalism professor, receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 5, 2021.</p>

Mike Foley, UF journalism professor, receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 5, 2021.

Gainesville is still a month or two away from having the COVID-19 vaccine becoming widely available, but city leaders are starting to make plans for when it is.

The Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously Thursday to pass a four-part plan that will help the Alachua County Health Department mass administer the COVID-19 vaccination.

The plan involves finding accessible sites, building teams with paramedics to administer the vaccine, registering residents and educating the community. The city government also agreed to coordinate with the health department to create a priority list of who gets vaccinated after the 65-and-older population. 

Alachua County ranked 10th in Florida for the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered as of Friday morning, according to a vaccine report from the Florida Department of Health. There have been 443,616 vaccinations administered in Florida — most of whom are healthcare workers and first responders — and 12,541 of those were administered in Alachua County as of Thursday. 

Community members over the age of 65 and healthcare workers started to receive the vaccine first. The county, which is home to about 40,000 residents over 65, is sorting vaccination priority by date of birth with older residents ranking higher on the list, said Paul Myers, Administrator of the Alachua County Health Department.

Vaccine Registration

Alachua County residents of 65 or older are encouraged to sign up to receive a vaccine through the county’s online portal or by calling 352-334-8810.

Myers asked those registering online not to call the health department, as it clogs up the phone lines. Residents should not sign up with both the health department and another healthcare provider, he added.

Those at higher risk but under the age of 65 are also encouraged to submit requests with their hospital or private medical provider, as hospitals have some discretion in who they choose to vaccinate, City Commissioner David Arreola said.

Commissioners discussed that essential workers might not receive the vaccine for at least one or two months, though they did not discuss who would be considered an essential worker.

Alachua County Health Department

The Alachua County Health Department is currently setting up eight clinics to support the vaccination operation, Myers said during a telephone town hall held on Wednesday for county leaders and health experts to discuss COVID-19 vaccination plans and answer public concerns.

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County Commissioner Ken Cornell said the health department had received 12,000 vaccination requests from residents above the age of 65 by Monday. That number climbed to 20,000 by noon on Tuesday.

Most vaccines will be administered through UF Health Shands Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center, following the instructions of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that hospitals receive the vaccines, Cornell said. The county health department will work with private healthcare providers not affiliated with either hospital in administering shots.

“The good side of this is that when there are enough vaccines to put in people’s arms, we will have a local system,” Cornell said.

County Manager Michele Lieberman said she feels confident in the health department’s ability to perform a mass vaccination, as this has been done during flu season in the public school system for years.

UF Health

As of Wednesday, UF Health had vaccinated about 10,000 Gainesville residents, UF Health President David Nelson said. Second doses have been administered to 1,200 of those residents as they have been made available.

Over 700 members of UF’s 65 and older community have received vaccines as of Wednesday, Nelson said, with a remaining 1,200 scheduled vaccinations to be conducted by the end of the weekend. There are 11,300 pending vaccination requests sent to Gainesville residents covered by the UF insurance plan, he said.

UF Health expects more Pfizer vaccines to start rolling in alongside the second doses of the Moderna vaccines already administered, Nelson said. UF Health receives a one-day notice ahead of vaccine shipments.

Addressing safety concerns surrounding the vaccine was also a priority of city leaders at Wednesday’s Town Hall.

Those given the vaccine are observed for 15 minutes in case they start experiencing side effects, Nelson said. Out of the 10,000 people vaccinated by UF Health, 26 suffered adverse reactions, he added. Only three people reported more severe, rare symptoms including light-headedness. 

“It appears to be unbelievably safe,” he said. “That’s why so many of us are so excited, but also so frustrated by why many people don’t want the vaccine.”

The Alachua County Commission will discuss further vaccination plans at its next meeting Tuesday afternoon.

This article has been updated to reflect that there is no email confirmation of vaccine registration with the Alachua Country Health Department. The Alligator initially reported otherwise.

Contact Jack Prator at jprator@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @jack_prator.

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Jack Prator

Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time. 


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