Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced on Twitter that all Florida residents 18 and older would be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines on April 5.
“If you look at the hospitalization and case rates for senior citizens, they have plummeted since the start of our Seniors First strategy,” DeSantis said in his video announcement. “And we want to keep up that momentum as we expand eligibility to other age groups throughout the state of Florida.”
Marion County has vaccinated 96,796 residents through March 30. More than 58,000 have completed their vaccination series. Between March 24 and March 31, the county had 312 new reported COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of 4.9% in that span.
The decision to lower the age requirement comes at a time when demand for the vaccine by those 65 and older has dropped while supplies of the vaccines are increasing.
“Opening up the vaccine opportunities further beyond the most recent eligibility groups allows us to continue large-scale vaccination efforts with minimal interruption,” said Department of Health in Marion County Administrator Mark Lander in an email.
Jamie Ulmer, CEO of Heart of Florida Health Center, said they are having trouble filling appointments and looks forward to opening vaccine eligibility. On March 25, the weekend vaccination event for 2,000 still had 1,500 available appointments. The event was for those 50 and older.
Heart of Florida has received 2,000 doses per week from the local DOH, but demand has declined in recent weeks. They received 7,000 doses this week directly from the federal government and started immunizing inmates with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Marion County Jail, where they provide health services to inmates.
“We’re giving them the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it’s one dose and it doesn’t necessitate having to track them down,” Ulmer said of the transient jail population.
Currently, only inmates who are 60 and over are eligible, but Ulmer expects that to drop soon. A total of 70 were initially eligible, and 43 opted to have the shot, according to Maria Torres, Heart of Florida’s chief health administrator for inmate health.
With inmates frequently coming and going from the jail, Torres said they will check jail logs every three days to identify inmates who qualify.
Marion County also launched a new site to sign up for the vaccine at https://tinyurl.com/MarionCOVIDvax. Additionally, vaccines are also available at Publix, CVS, Sam’s Club, Walgreen’s, Winn-Dixie and Walmart.
Residents are encouraged to pre-register to be notified to schedule an appointment when a vaccine becomes available. The site replaces the county’s old site at myvaccine.fl.gov. People can still register through the MyVaccine site, but there will be a delay as they transfer that information from one site to the other.
“The new registration process should allow for quicker, more efficient appointment signups,” said Department of Health in Marion County Administrator Mark Lander in a release. “Residents will also be able to manage and update their information as needed through the sign-up site.”