Health care personnel and frontline workers, including EMS and long-term care facility staff, were among the first in Monroe County to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Supplies are limited, however, as elderly and at-risk populations seek inoculation. 

A small number of vaccines was administered to high-risk individuals over 65 years old on Jan. 5, the Florida Health Department of Monroe County confirmed. But the 1,300 vaccines the health department received are reserved for health care professionals with direct patient contact and special needs persons over 65 who have appointments. 

“We received 800 doses, then an additional 500 doses over the past week,” Bob Eadie, health officer for Monroe County, told Key West commissioners during a Jan. 5 meeting. “I didn’t know any of the doses were coming. They just sort of showed up.”

So far, 486 people received the vaccine locally — the majority of those health care professionals. Eadie expects to have used up all 1,300 doses by Saturday, Jan. 9.

“We’re doing our best to get these into as many people as possible,” he said. “We can’t request any additional doses, but I’m being told that as we use what we’ve received, they’ll be replenished.”

Eadie told Key West commissioners that he initially allowed walk-in appointments on the first and second day of vaccinations. That’s no longer happening, he said. 

“Against my better judgment, I allowed walk-ups to get vaccinated the first two days, but from here on out it has to be by appointment only,” he said. “I can’t have elderly people waiting in long lines.”

At Lower Keys Medical Center, Dr. Jack Norris said it received 300 doses, with priority given to medical personnel working in the hospital’s COVID unit, intensive care unit and emergency room. 

“They just appeared on a Tuesday,” Norris said, adding that he hadn’t known the Moderna vaccines were arriving. 

Mariners and Fishermen’s hospitals have no vaccines available to the public at this time. Nursing staff and other hospital personnel were inoculated on the Baptist Health campus in Miami-Dade County.

“Baptist Health does not have a vaccination site set up in Monroe County yet — hopefully soon or close perhaps in Homestead,” said Georgi Pipkin, communications director for Baptist Health South Florida.  

COVID-19 vaccines were also sent to CVS and Walgreens throughout the state. It’s unknown how many the pharmacy stores received, or their availability. 

Rollout of the vaccine began following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in mid- to late-December. On Dec. 30, the state obtained 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. They were distributed to 226 hospitals that did not receive doses in the first allocation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

The state has received a little over 767,000 vaccines to date. About 289,000 people have been vaccinated.

On Jan. 5, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a partnership with Publix to open COVID-19 vaccination sites, with the first in Ocala. Twenty-two pilot locations are opening, but only in three counties: Citrus, three; Hernando, 11; and Marion, eight. 

DeSantis also announced new actions to increase vaccinations across the state through expanding vaccinations with additional state-supported sites, adding 1,000 more contracted nurses to support vaccination efforts and accelerating vaccinations at long-term care facilities. 

With limited vaccine supplies, the local health department is urging the public to not frequent Florida Department of Health in Monroe County locations without an appointment for services, including COVID-19 vaccines. The health department says the vaccine will not be provided to anyone without an appointment.  

“As expected, congregating, including outside of these health department facilities, increases the opportunity for person-to-person transmission of the virus,” a statement released on Jan. 6 reads. “We continue to ask for everyone’s patience and cooperation as our phone lines have become jammed and emails continue to come in to all department staff from residents asking for this vaccine.”

Vaccination clinics by appointment only were held Jan. 6 at Key West’s Gato Building, the Roth Building in Tavernier and in Marathon. More clinics are set for Saturday, Jan. 9, also by appointment only. 

There’s no definitive date when more vaccines will arrive in the Keys, but the health department anticipates additional doses “in the near future.” DeSantis said in a press conference on Jan. 6 that another vaccine shipment is expected next week. A website and hotline for people to register will be ready by next week, according to the health department. 

Eadie acknowledged people’s frustration with a lack of a statewide online appointment or reservation system.

“We’re told a statewide reservation system will be up and running. Our county system and phones have been absolutely overwhelmed,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can, trying to get them into as many people as possible.”

A little more than 200 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the Florida Health Department since Dec. 30. Seventy-one came out of Key West. Thirty-eight confirmed cases by non-county residents were reported. 

Mandy Miles contributed to this report

 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.