PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — CVS and Walgreens pharmacists are launching a mission to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of residents and staff at long-term care facilities throughout Florida and the Tampa Bay area.
Monday, CVS pharmacists spent the day at the Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay vaccinating several long-term care assisted living and memory care residents. The community hopes to have 400 residents, staff and caretakers vaccinated by Wednesday evening.
Jim Donarski was one of the residents who received a COVID-19 vaccine Monday. It comes just in time for his birthday.
“I’m 89. Can you imagine where the time goes?” he said with a chuckle.
Donarski asked for just one thing this year. “I’m glad I got the shot for my birthday. It’s such a wonderful feeling,” he said with emotion.
He spent the day Monday proudly showing off his bandaid, which he says he hopes will mean he is one step closer to seeing his family for the first time in nearly a year.
“It is a tragedy when they’re so close and yet so far,” he elaborated.
The assisted living facility is one of the largest in Pinellas County and is now one of the first to welcome local CVS pharmacists inside to conduct widespread vaccinations.
Suzanne Burtzlaff, the Executive Director at the Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, says it’s an incredible day.
“I feel today is a turning point that things are going to start getting better. This is a day we’ve been waiting for, and it’s finally here,” she said excitedly.
98% of residents and staff at the Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay are opting in to receive the vaccine. Many tell Burtzlaff they’ve never felt so isolated and hope this marks the beginning of the voyage back to normalcy.
Joseph Bradford Sargeant, who goes by Brad, also received the COVID-19 vaccine Monday.
“Back in March, it was like boom all of a sudden here comes the pandemic, and it’s like no more contact visits, and that gets hard,” he elaborated.
Yet, getting the vaccines to the 321,000 assisted living residents is off to a slow start in Florida, like many other vaccine distributions statewide.
One complication is getting all the paperwork in order, especially for those who can’t consent on their own.
Burtzlaff says that was a challenge they also faced and overcame.
“Getting all the consent forms signed, having the correct insurance, and as you know, many plans changed the first of the year, so that was a huge endeavor alone. Yet, here we are, and it has finally come.”
For Donarski, that calls for a celebration.
“On my God, come on!” he exclaimed with excitement. “It means so much to me because I’ll be able to hug my kids again.”