PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — As frontline healthcare workers in Tampa Bay start getting vaccinated, we’re also now just days away from the first COVID-19 vaccines arriving at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Pinellas County is one of only two counties in the state now prioritized to receive the first vaccines, alongside Broward County. Tom Iovino, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, expects the vaccines to begin arriving mid-week.
Pinellas County is expected to receive 10,700 vaccines for skilled nursing centers.
One word comes to mind for Pilar Carvajal, the CEO of Innovations Senior Living: Hope.
“Knowing we will turn a corner and start the road to recovery because it’s been a very painful road,” she explained.
Long term care employees and residents in Pinellas and Broward Counties will be first to get the Pfizer vaccine, which will be administered by a strike team of local paramedics and members of the National Guard.
The vaccine is voluntary, and right now many long-term care facilities are working on ways to get their staff and residents to opt-in.
“People are scared. It’s something new but what I always stress on is this is the turning of the corner,” Carvajal said.
Pinellas County is still working to determine which facilities will get the vaccine first, which will be given in two doses 21 days apart. Some long-term care leaders plan to vaccinate employees first, followed by residents.
Gail Matillo, the CEO of the Florida Senior Living Association, says she is hearing most people are on board with getting the vaccine.
“One of our board members took a survey of over 40 something communities across the country and he said between 85% and 90% of staff and over 90% of residents will go on board to take the vaccination,” she elaborated.
For many, the vaccine is a turning point.
Statewide, 40% of fatalities are linked to long-term care facilities. Yet, according to the Florida Department of Health, in Pinellas County, that percentage is much higher making up 67% of fatalities. 774 COVID-19 deaths in Pinellas County have been linked to long term care facililities.
Kristen Knapp, the spokesperson for the Florida Healthcare Association says the vaccine will go a long way in keeping our most vulnerable community members safe.
“All of us are very optimistic,” she said.