While the state protocol for COVID-19 vaccine distribution still gives priority to seniors over 65, the Alachua County Health Department expects first responders and teachers will most likely get their turn next.
Paul Myers, administrator for Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, made the comments while giving his report to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday. He reported that more than 65 percent of the senior population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine—which new research indicates is largely effective against the virus.
Current groups being signed up for the vaccination are still 65 and older, health care personnel with direct patient contact and persons deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by hospital providers, according to Myers.
“I am hearing that law enforcement, firefighters and teachers are probably going to be next up,” Myers said. “I don’t have a timeline for that.”
Myers reported the latest statistics since the start of the pandemic as 22,154 confirmed cases, 1,004 residents hospitalized and 222 deaths in Alachua County.
From Feb. 8 to 21, Myers said 27,167 tests have been processed and only 734 came back positive, producing a two-week average positivity rate of just 2.7 percent.
And while positivity rates continue to decline, Myers reminded the BOCC and meeting viewers that the top four sources of COVID-19 exposure in order of prevalence are household transmission, retail environments, bars and restaurants, and gatherings and meetings.
“Current groups for vaccination are still 65 and older, health care personnel with direct patient contact, and persons deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by hospital providers,” Myers said. “This is coming from the Department of Emergency Management, so I’m not sure when or if other populations will be included.”
So far, 45,200 county residents have been vaccinated and the county DOH is averaging 592 doses per day over two weeks, Myers said.
But those rates will pick up this week with multiple clinics being scheduled.
Current trends show the decline in cases, and Myers said this time the decline is different from those seen last year.
“It’s not because we are not testing,” he said. “We are testing as much if not more than back in August.”
Hospital trends are going down after the holiday peak at 222 to now 87 over the last 30 days, Myers reported.
“Vaccinations continue to rise as cases continue to decline,” he said. “It is an inverse relationship and that is very good. We are making great progress.”
Myers said vaccine supply continues to be a limiting factor upping the vaccination weekly average, which declined during delivery interruptions last week due to storms.
“I will say we have received sufficient vaccines for us to continue holding first doses this week and into next in addition to making up for the second dose clinics as well,” Myers said.
He also announced the Feb. 18 Trinity United vaccination event that was canceled last week has been rescheduled for March 1.
Overall vaccinations in Alachua County add up to about 76,000 including those administered by the county and local hospitals.
“Alachua County continues to be a statewide leader in COVID-19 vaccinations, with 16.7 percent of residents having received at least one dose,” Myers said.
Alachua County is sixth in the state out of 67 counties for vaccinating the 65 and older population.
Myers reminded the BOCC of how residents can get access to the vaccine: Registering online at alachua.floridahealth.gov and waiting for a call, calling the health department at 352-334-8810 or getting a community organization to start a list and reaching out to schedule a vaccine clinic.
The county has been reaching out to hard-to-reach populations by going door to door assisting them with signing up for the vaccine.
“We are trying to ensure that those having difficulty to accessing the vaccine can get it,” Myers said.
Myers said he is waiting for the green light from the governor to open up the vaccine to more of the population.
“We are well positioned to do vaccination clinics in Alachua County as long as the supplies hold out,” he said, adding that the county needs to celebrate the good news: Lowest 14-day positivity rate of test results since December 2020, lowest five-day rolling average of new cases since September 2020, fewest COVID-19 patients on ventilators since June 2020.”