County at vaccine capacity, awaits more eligibility

The Alachua County Health Department had 3,000 COVID-19 vaccines up for grabs at a recent clinic for the 65 and older population, but only 1,300 were claimed.

According to Paul Myers, administrator for Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, 17,000 invitations to a vaccine clinic held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Friday were sent out and 1,700 of the slots went unclaimed.

With a majority of 65 and older Alachua County residents already receiving the vaccine, Myers said come Monday when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has cleared the way for 60 and older to receive the vaccine, the county can pick up the pace.

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The comments came as Myers presented the latest COVID-19 case and vaccine data to the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday. He said the county is averaging 420 doses per day over the last two weeks compared to the 592 doses being administered daily two weeks prior.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell asked Myers if he knew of upcoming changes to the eligibility list beyond DeSantis’ announcement that on March 15 people 60 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

“Many of us are learning what the governor is going to do when he has his press conferences,” Myers said.

Both Cornell and Myers said they were looking forward to more open categories for eligible recipients. As it stands, the vaccine is available to the following people:

  • K-12 school employees 50 and older, which Myers said will be completed in Alachua County by Friday in Alachua County (including private schools)
  • Law enforcement and firefighters 50 and older
  • Persons under 65 deemed vulnerable by a physician with a form
  • Starting Monday, Florida residents 60 and older

Myers said 72 percent of the spread of COVID-19 is happening with people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

“Until we get to the spreaders, we’re going to continue to have these cases,” he said.

Those cases—which are at 22,612 in Alachua County as of Tuesday—are dropping along with hospitalizations, according to Myers. So far, 1,068 residents have been hospitalized and there have been 242 COVID-19 related deaths in Alachua County.

The 1.8 percent positivity rate over the last two weeks is a result of about 90,000 individuals being vaccinated.

“We’re below where we were in October,” Myers said, adding that hospital trends are back down to where they were last spring.

More than 50 percent of vaccines have gone to the 65 and older population, Myers said. And of the 90,000 vaccines administered in Alachua County, 36,859 came from the county health department.

Cornell said the county needs the vaccine to be widely available and accessible, but until then, the county will keep the mask and capacity mandates.

Cornell said that DeSantis just extended the state emergency order for another 60 days and he is hopeful that as more vaccines get into hands by April and May, Alachua County can begin lifting its emergency order after the summer.

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler asked about the waiting list for potential vaccine recipients, such as teachers and essential workers, who aren’t 60 but could use the surplus vaccines not used when slots go unassigned or appointments get canceled.

Myers said the standby list filled with frontline workers is now at 600.

“Each vile has six vaccines,” Myers said. “If you get a standby vaccine it’s like winning the lottery, it’s your lucky day.”

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