Two. That’s the new number of COVID-19 cases reported by the state Department of Health in Monroe County on May 18. And as the county’s cases fall, so does the demand for the vaccine. At the moment, about 40,000 Keys residents — 54% — have at least one dose. And 40% of residents have the complete series. And an astounding 90% of Keys residents who are 65 or older have been vaccinated.
Naturally, with so many vaccinated, the demand for the shots continues to dwindle. Starting next month in June, it’s highly unlikely health agencies will continue to offer the mass-vaccination, no-appointment-necessary vaccine events. Instead, locals will be referred to retail pharmacies, clinics and doctors offices.
As a final push, some are offering incentives to those willing to be vaccinated. At the Department of Health event on Big Pine Key at Big Pine United Methodist Church, they are handing out $10 gift grocery cards. The event started on May 19 and runs through Friday, May 21 from noon to 8 p.m. daily.
Armand Messina, owner of A.M. Electric in Marathon, is giving his employees bonuses. He said it’s partially a reward for employees’ dedication during the pandemic and an extra amount for agreeing to be vaccinated. They did.
“I paid them $100 to get their vaccines. Who doesn’t love money,” said Messina. “We’re trying to keep ourselves safe and our clients safe.”
On the mainland, governments and employees are getting even more creative: a free glazed donut from Krispy Kreme, paid time off to get the shot from employers like Target, a Lyft ride. In Ohio, the governor announced a $1 million lottery for vaccinated residents of the state.
The incentives are a logical extension of the abundance of vaccines now available.
“Although the demand for COVID-19 vaccines at our state vaccination sites through myvaccine has gone down within the last few weeks, availability of vaccines continues to grow in Monroe County,” said a state Department of Health-Monroe County spokesperson. “COVID-19 vaccines are more readily available now at local retail pharmacies by appointment and some by walk-in, including at CVS, Walgreens, Publix, Winn Dixie, CHI, and Rural Health Network Monroe County.”
The College of the Florida Keys is winding down its mass vaccination efforts, too.
“We have eight more small events scheduled for the remainder of May and two in early June,” said Amber Ernst-Leonard.
More than 130 nursing students from the college have already volunteered 3,722 hours at 26 vaccination events at the school, 12 weeks onsite at Ocean Reef, and weekly events — two or three times a week — with the Department of Health. That represents almost 22,000 shots administered.
“For a while, we were even going onsite to businesses that requested our presence like Opal Key Resort,” Ernst-Leonard said, “trying to reach as many people working in the hospitality industry as possible.”
On May 18, the county’s health department said it recommends vaccines for those who have already had the coronavirus.
The Florida Department of Health has recommendations regarding vaccination for COVID-19 for those who have been previously infected with the virus and for those who are currently infectious.
“It is unknown how long protection from being infected again will last,” said a spokesperson. “Getting sick with the virus can occur again and vaccination can help prevent severe infection and further spread.”