Medical experts urge vaccines as COVID-19 spreads in Florida

Posted at 11:27 PM, Jul 22, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Federal health officials say three states, Florida, Texas and Missouri, account for 40 percent of all COVID-19 cases nationwide.

For the second week in a row, Florida alone accounts for 1 in 5 of all cases nationwide, according to the White House COVID Response team.

In the meantime, medical experts are continuing to urge vaccinations as cases arise.

“I was afraid I was gonna get real sick from the vaccine. But I didn’t,” said Virginia Lewis.

Lewis said she was on the fence about the COVID-19 vaccine. Now she’s a few weeks since her second dose. She said seeing others sick, convincing from family and seeing how a neighbor handled the vaccine helped change her mind.

“I know a couple of friends that got it and how sick they were and I didn’t want that,” Lewis said of the coronavirus.

Lewis, homebound, was vaccinated through a pharmacy home visit, something DeliveRxd Pharmacy opted to do for regular patients. Lewis said it made a difference in her receiving the vaccine.

RELATED: You can now get a COVID-19 vaccine from your own home

“Yes it did because I didn’t have no way to get there,” Lewis said.

Starting next week, a similar program will be available to everyone in Hillsborough and Pinellas County regardless of whether someone is already a patient or homebound. The pharmacy said they've already received hundreds of calls from people inquiring.

“I think we can definitely increase vaccinations rates especially for those who are either on the fence or just didn’t have good access to it or were too scared to come out into public to get the vaccine,” said William Parker, the pharmacy’s owner.

State data shows a vaccination rate of around 84 percent for those 65 and older, which drops down with age to 33 percent for those 12 to 19 years old.

CDC data shows about 55 percent of eligible Floridians are fully vaccinated.

“It’s no surprise we’re seeing a surge in cases. We have a more contagious variant of COVID-19 out there, we have no social mitigation strategies whether that’s social distancing or masking, and then you have a low vaccination compliance. We know the only way to end this surge is by asking more people and urging more people to get vaccinated,” said Chad Neilsen, the director of accreditation and infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville.

He said their sister campuses have seen COVID-19 admissions double in a week's time.

“This didn’t necessarily catch us off guard but the rate at which these cases are pouring in, it is surprising. We know that it’s due to the Delta variant because it’s more contagious and it’s largely the dominant strain here in the State of Florida but we didn’t predict it would gain so rapidly and force so many people into our hospital this quick,” Neilsen said.

Neilsen said most patients are not vaccinated, and that no one who has died since the beginning of June has been vaccinated. He also notes the patient population is younger than that seen in previous surges, with more Florida seniors vaccinated.

“We’ve had this available for everybody in Florida since April,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis pointed to focusing on printing severe clinical outcomes like death or hospitalization.

“We’ve never had any mandates in the state of Florida and we will not have any mandates in the state of Florida because ultimately people need to make decisions about what’s right for them but I can tell you with having 85 percent of seniors that have been vaccinated in the state of Florida that has had a positive impact,” he said.

Lewis said she feels more protected now, though notes the current case rise is still “kind of scary.”

“I’m glad I got it I am really glad,” Lewis said.