Florida taps Pinellas County for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine pilot program


PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – People in Pinellas County will be among the first in Florida to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The county is one of two in the state to that are taking part in the state’s pilot program for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“The vaccine provides a ray of hope that this is the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has impacted so many lives,” said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County on Friday’s virtual announcement.

Both Pinellas and Broward counties are expected to launch the program sometime next week. Dr.Choe said with the two counties more than 21-thousand doses will be provided.

Health officials said the vaccines will be distributed to residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

Dr.Choe said part of the reason Pinellas County was chosen is because there is a large population of long term care facilities. “Unfortunately 67% of deaths in Pinellas County have come from these long-term care facilities but we’re hopeful the vaccine will stem that tide and make some positive progress,” Dr.Choe said.

He said the vaccine is a 2-dose series given 21 days apart.

Despite some people in the community who are skeptic of the vaccine, Dr.Choe said it has been proven to be safe and effective through research.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County said they’re partnering with paramedics and the National Guard to administer the vaccines.

They said participation is voluntary. The Founder and CEO of Innovation Senior Living center in Clearwater, Pilar Carvajal, said almost all of their staff and residents at the Heritage House already said they will take the vaccine.

“We are so excited, I think this is finally the light at the end of the tunnel. Something we have been waiting for for so long,” Carvajal said.

“This means hugs and seeing one another again. There are grandchildren and great grand children that haven’t been seen for a long time so I think this is just the beginning of us being able to see one another again! “

The Pfizer’s vaccine, which was found to be 95 percent effective in a late-stage clinical trial, was endorsed by a U.S. government advisory panel on Thursday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis took to Twitter that evening to outline his plan to distribute each shipment. He said the first doses will go to health care workers in high-risk environments and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

“The arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Pinellas gives us another way to protect the most vulnerable Pinellas residents and health-care workers who have been hard hit by the pandemic as well as those who provide their care,” said Dr. Choe. “We are honored to be one of the first two Florida counties to begin the vaccination effort in the state.”

Florida is expected to begin its rollout of the vaccine next week. Both Pinellas and Broward counties should disclose more details on the pilot program once plans are finalized.


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