Polk health officials plan more walk-up vaccine sites, doctors warn about vaccine hesitancy

Polk County

HAINES CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County hosted its first walk-up only vaccine site in Haines City Tuesday as the county’s vaccination rate lags behind other counties.

State data shows 18% of people in Polk County are fully vaccinated and 29% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The fact that we’re here talking in April about still having plenty of vaccine and not enough people to give it to is a surprise to many of us,” said Dr. Steven Achinger, managing partner at Watson Clinic.

Dr. Achinger said there is a lot of work to be done in the county before reaching anything close to herd immunity.

“We’re finding that there’s not as big of a demand as we would like to see and that’s just not a good sign,” said Dr. Achinger. “I think there’s a target out there that we’re just not reaching. Perhaps it’s the younger population.”

“It’s a little concerning that Polk County is lagging behind other counties and Florida is lagging behind other states in getting people fully vaccinated,” said April Novotny, chief nurse executive and vice president at Lakeland Regional Health.

Novotny said Lakeland Regional Health has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the last two weeks.

“We are definitely moving in the wrong direction,” said Novotny.

The health department opened a call center and registration web portal in mid-January.

Interest was high.

Since then, it has waned, which led the health department to reconfigure how it administers its vaccines.

“Vaccine[s] has just become more available across the county so we did see a decrease in calls and a decrease in registrations,” said Nicole Riley, health department in Polk County spokesperson.

Two thousand shots were available at Lake Eva Event Center in Haines City.

“This is your opportunity to come and do it,” said Maria Mercedes Gonzalez, who had some hesitation about getting the vaccine in fear of potential side effects. “I was waiting for the results from other people. They had the Pfizer, they had the Johnson [& Johnson] and the Moderna. So I ask, ‘how do you feel? How was the shot? What was the reaction?’”

Robert Starcher, of Poinciana, feels any hesitancy has occurred because of politics.

“We should have all been all along from the beginning saying, ‘we need to do this to combat it,’ not worrying about who’s getting the vaccine made and who’s not,” he said.

After administering 300 doses of the 2,000 on hand in Haines City Tuesday, the health department planned another event at Front Page Brewing, Co. in Bartow Wednesday.

“Just a walk in thing. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. I’m not computer friendly. I don’t get on the computer,” said Jim Loomis, who lives in Mulberry.

With coronavirus cases on the rise, health officials urge people to focus on the facts.

“Look at the reputable science. I would not take everything you see online on some of our social media sites as gospel. There’s some pretty factually flawed information out there,” said Novotny.

The health department plans to hold another walk-up only vaccine event at Lake Eva Event Center in Haines City next Wednesday, April 28, 10am – 6:30pm.

People can also call Lakeland Regional Health to set up an appointment in Lakeland at 863-904-1895 Monday through Friday.

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