People 50+ receive COVID-19 vaccine in Florida as eligibility expands

Posted at 5:41 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 23:15:29-04

TAMPA, Fla. — More Floridians were able to roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine Monday as the state expanded eligibility to people 50 years old and up.

“I feel safer,” said Terrance Davis, who got the vaccine Monday. “If I were you, I would go ahead and get a shot. It’s not bad. It doesn’t hurt. You don’t even feel anything really. I didn’t feel anything. I would go ahead and get that shot.”

A steady stream of cars lined up at the federally-supported Tampa Greyhound Track site Monday as more people qualified for the vaccine.

“I’m very excited,” said Anne Treulich. “I’m tired of this kind of fear that something’s going to happen, so this just alleviates all that.”

People getting the vaccine told ABC Action News the process was quick and easy. Carole Covey, the site’s incident commander, said while busier, they are prepared to handle the people coming through, and it shouldn’t slow the process down.

“It’s still been a great process for everybody to come through,” said Covey. “There haven’t been any extreme delays, and we’re just thankful that the community is coming out.”

The Florida Division of Emergency Management announced Monday the four federally-supported vaccination sites in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami will be able to give out 500 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine per day from March 24 to April 7. The state previously announced the vaccination sites would only be able to administer second doses during that time.

The state says the vaccines will only be offered at the hub sites and each site will offer 500 Pfizer vaccines per day to eligible populations. These sites will only offer the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine from April 7 through April 14.

Additionally, the state says satellite sites associated with each hub site will continue only administering second dose shots between March 24 to April 14. All satellite sites will return to their original locations over the next three weeks so all people who received their first dose at these sites can receive their second doses. The state said for the last two weeks of operations from April 14 to April 28, they are planning to offer the one dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Coordinators at the Tampa Greyhound site want to remind people for second doses of the Pfizer vaccine starting Wednesday, people should bring their vaccination card so they can verify their information, and if you have an appointment already, make sure you come on that day.

“There are lots of sites all across Tampa and Hillsborough County that are open and available to serve and help make sure that people that do meet the requirements are vaccinated,” said Covey.

Covey said they’re using different resources to get the word out their site is available and open. People who got the vaccine said if you get your chance, don’t waste your shot.

“It protects them, it protects everybody else, and we need to get herd immunity to really move on, and I think we’ve all got to do our part," said Elizabeth Vitchock, who got the vaccine.

ABC Action News checked in with other sites, too.

While the state’s site at Raymond James Stadium has the capacity to administer 1,600 first dose vaccines and 1,600 second dose vaccines, a spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management said by about 3 p.m. Monday it had only given around 1,600 combined. Though appointments are required, they have had flexibility with walk-ups when the site does not hit capacity

Hillsborough County said it had 3,000 appointments for the week opening at 9 a.m. By early evening, roughly half were booked. Pinellas County said there were plenty of appointments available at its Pinellas Central Vaccination Site. While the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County said it hasn’t seen a spike in demand like it expected, noting appointments were still available as of Monday afternoon at its Saint Leo University drive-thru site.

On the pharmacy side, Publix said it reserved more than 105,000 appointments Monday.

CVS said demand overall is strong, noting appointments continue to quickly fill up throughout Florida with nearly all locations offering a vaccine fully booked.

“We are also reaching out to patients in vulnerable communities to help them make appointments and to answer questions or concerns they may have about being vaccinated as part of our recently announced commitment to addressing potential inequities related to COVID-19 vaccine access in underserved communities, with a particular focus on Black and Hispanic populations,” stated a spokesperson.

Walmart said the demand for the vaccine has remained steady in Florida, noting its scheduling system is on a rolling 7-day calendar.

As vaccine allocation and availability continues to be a fluid situation, we are encouraging qualified individuals to continue to visit our online scheduling tool for timely updates, including vaccine availability details as appointments can become available as we receive additional vaccines or due to cancellations.

We are working diligently to keep our appointment availability updated in real-time as we continue to safeguard the health and well-being of our communities,” stated Kaley Shaffer, director of public relations and community for Southeastern Grocers, parent company of Winn-Dixie, Harveys Supermarket and Fresco y Más.

Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at USF’s College of Public Health, is tracking the vaccination rates.

“It’s growing, it’s growing in a lot of age groups, and obviously as we start shifting to younger age groups it’s gonna grow in younger age groups,” he said.

Salemi said over the last two weeks the 55-64-year-old age group was the fastest-growing group, going from 12 percent who have received at least one dose to 27 percent that has received at least one dose.

“I just want to make sure that we’re just not satisfied with demand is lower in certain age groups but making sure that people realize not only the benefits to themselves but to their loved ones and to their communities of as many people getting vaccinated as possible,” he said.

Governor Ron Desantis indicated he thought all adults would be eligible by May 1, if not sooner, barring any changes in supply.