TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — With vaccine appointments going unfilled, Tampa Bay area health officials are expressing new concern about the slowdown in getting our communities vaccinated against COVID-19.
Demand for the vaccine has seen a recent dip in Tampa Bay, and experts believe it will only prolong the pandemic. They say it’s a race to reach herd immunity before the virus mutates to the point that our current vaccines lose their effectiveness.
Currently, more than 200 million shots have been put in arms across the country. But nationally, and in the Tampa Bay area, the rate of daily coronavirus vaccinations is slowing down. It’s a sign that demand is slipping.
“It is your turn,” Department of Health in Hillsborough County spokesman Kevin Watler said. “Everyone who is 16 years old and older, it is your turn to get vaccinated.”
In Hillsborough County, you can get the vaccine in more than 100 locations. But even before news of rare blood clots frightened some and put Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine on pause, Watler saw fewer Floridians wanting to roll up their sleeves.
“We had the availability of 1,000 vaccines a day and only two to three hundred people were showing up,” said Watler of one site. “We know that we still have a lot more of the population that we do need to get vaccinated.”
USF Professor Dr. Edwin Michael has been closely tracking the virus in the Tampa Bay area. He found 60% of our new cases are the more contagious b.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant.
Dr. Michael says each new day and each new case increases the potential for new mutants to emerge.
“We have to clamp down on the spread as fast as possible, you know, while the vaccines are still effective,” said Dr. Michael. “That is the crux of why we need to get herd immunity as fast as possible.”
Dr. Michael says people ages 20 to 49 are spreading the virus. Although they’re less likely to get seriously sick from COVID-19, they should still get vaccinated if they want the pandemic to end.
“It’s not the older people who are the dominant group transmitting the virus,” he said.
In Hillsborough County, for example, the latest numbers show about 8,000 people are getting vaccinated a day. Dr. Michael says if we double that vaccination rate, we could go back to normal life by August 1.