By Jim McCarthy, Sara Matthis and Mandy Miles
Between mass vaccine clinics and pharmacies coming on line, a little more than 25,700 Covid-19 shots have entered the arms of Keys residents.
Health care providers are beginning to obtain their initial vaccine shipments following a longer than anticipated wait. And while clinics like Good Health Clinic are pleased to receive the first package, dose totals aren’t quite to the number requested.
With offices in Tavernier and Marathon, Good Health Clinic received its first round of Covid-19 doses on April 5. The clinic originally put in a request for 1,000 shots to the Florida Shots program, which helps healthcare providers with the vaccinations for their patients.
Doses received in the first package totaled 100.
“We’re hopeful that they’re going to be sending more soon,” said Kate Banick, executive director for the Good Health Clinic, which serves more than 3,600 of the uninsured and low income in the Keys. “We’re also working with the department of health with some of the vaccines they received to distribute them to our patients.”
Rural Health Network of Monroe County is a community-based nonprofit that provides health care services to those in the Lower Keys. On March 26, the organization received 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“We’re still waiting on 200 more second doses for those same patients,” said Elizabeth Baker, human resources director of Rural Health Network. “Last time, we got an email and a tracking number and the doses arrived the very next day.”
Nevertheless, Baker said, the vaccination process for 200 people 50 and older went “flawlessly.” She recommends calling the organization or visiting online to learn about additional vaccine opportunities.
Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI) provides primary health care to residents in the Upper and Middle Keys, in addition to its clinics on the mainland. CHI’s Marianne Vinizio said vaccines were administered to staff in January and eventually to patients once they received additional doses. A total of 236 people in the Keys received a vaccine through CHI, which is a federally-qualified health center. On the mainland, it has vaccinated 4,594 patients.
The vaccines are offered in Marathon on Mondays, when the clinic is typically closed, and on Saturday in Tavernier, staying open later to accommodate the vaccine patients. CHI is offering the Moderna vaccine, but Vinizio said it just received its first batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Initially, everyone was experiencing challenges,” Vinizio said. “We put the orders in and we are receiving them. Across the board, we’re hoping to get smoother, more frequent shipments.”
Florida began receiving vaccines in late December, with Moderna vaccines delivered to more than 220 hospitals. Pfizer vaccines were making their way to the state not long after that.
Priority went to those over 65 who were Florida residents. Nationwide, more than 70% of the 65-and-older population have received a vaccine since then, according to recent data. Health care workers and first responders were also given preference as the initial rollout continued.
Eligibility expanded to those in their 50s and 40s last month as more vaccines trickled into the state. Anyone 18 or older can sign up beginning this week to receive a one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
More than 6.4 million Florida residents have received a vaccine. Of those, 3.7 million have completed their series.
Through a federal COVID-19 vaccine program, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies began to receive doses. Publix announced in February that all store pharmacies in the Keys would be receiving doses, albeit in limited quantities. Reservations for shots went fast when they opened. Winn-Dixie pharmacies in Tavernier and Key West also came online, and eventually, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies were administering vaccines.
With pharmacies obtaining doses each week, local health care providers like Good Health Clinic are also hoping to see some more. Banick said the 200 doses received will be administered this week and the next.
“We’re hoping that more vaccines are coming in installments, but we don’t know when or how many are coming,” Banick said.
The Florida Health Department of Monroe County said it will be distributing some vaccines not only to municipalities, but also to local doctors’ offices that signed up through Florida Shots. Alison Kerr, public information officer, said a survey was conducted in December to see what offices are willing to administer shots.