Marion County to push 9,000 vaccines through Wednesday

Stephanie Farquharson, a registered nurse, administers the COVID vaccine to Carol Aronoff at on Top of the World in Ocala on Friday. [Cyndi Chambers/Special to the Ocala Gazette]
Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Ocala on Friday to promote a local push to vaccinate more seniors in Marion County, including an effort to distribute more than 9,000 vaccines through Wednesday.

Overall, about 60% of seniors in the state have received the vaccine, but in Marion, that number is hovering in the low 40%, DeSantis said.

“We really believe doing these shots here will help. I think this is going to make a big difference,” DeSantis said during a press conference in front of the Circle Square Cultural Center at On Top of the World.

State and county emergency management and health officials, as well as the National Guard, were distributing 3,500 Pfizer vaccine doses at a drive-through event over the weekend at the cultural center.

On Monday and Tuesday, the drive-through operation moves to the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park, where they will distribute another 3,000 doses.

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County and AdventHealth will also distribute their regular 3,000 doses at their Paddock Mall clinic between Monday and Wednesday.

Many of the doses will go toward exhausting the list of 50,000 people older than 65 who registered for the vaccine between late December and early January.

Mark Lander, the local DOH administrator, said the push should put the county over 50% of seniors vaccinated. The county has nearly 106,000 seniors, or about 29% of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Through Wednesday, the DOH reported more than 56,600 people vaccinated in Marion County. More than 80% were 65 and older, Lander said.

Additionally, DeSantis announced that two Walgreen locations in Marion County started distributing about 600 doses per week. Those locations include 807 E. Silver Springs Blvd. and 260 Marion Oaks Blvd. Registration for those vaccines is available at Walgreens.com and clicking the “COVID-19 vaccination information” icon.

Walgreen joins Publix, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Winn-Dixie locations offering vaccinations in Marion County.

“We’ve seen some really good output on some of these pharmacies throughout the State of Florida, so we want to continue to make that available,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis made vaccinating seniors a priority, with more than 2.5 million already vaccinated.

Later this month, he expects to start dropping the age limits for vaccinations to 60 and possibly to 55, depending on supplies.

He said the state began receiving shipments of the newly approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will use those to vaccinate police officers, emergency workers and teachers 50 and over. While that vaccine has a lower effectiveness rate than either the Pfizer or Moderna versions, DeSantis said that should not be a concern.

“Some people have been negative on it,” he said. “The data is awesome: 100% reduction in death and 100% reduction in hospitalization. Guys, if you get a cold-like symptom, that ain’t the end of the world. If it can save your life and keep you out of the hospital, that is an effective vaccine.”

DeSantis remained firm that his age-based approach was the best for Florida, given its large senior population.

“If you look at the national numbers, 95.7% of COVID-related mortality is age 50 and above. That’s why we did seniors first,” he said. “That is the best way to save the most lives.”

Ken Colen, president of On Top of the World said he was proud of the work the community’s education center did to help register clients. Master the Possibilities, a non-profit learning center, repurposed their class registration system to set vaccination appointments.

“It’s gone flawlessly,” Colen said, adding the appointments for the second doses were also set.

He said they opened registration to anyone who met the state’s criteria regardless of where they lived.

About half of those who registered were from On Top of the World. The rest came from retirement communities nearby.

“I said we got to open it to everyone,” Colen said. “I’m thrilled that we could get so many people in here.”

Alice and Rod Cartier were among those who got their first dose of the vaccine on Friday. They were wary about the vaccine at first but took the plunge because of the convenience.

“We held off. We weren’t sure,” Rod Cartier said. “Then this came up. It’s real close to home, so here we are.”

Alice Cartier said she worried about the vaccine because she has lupus.

“My doctor said you if you got the flu vaccine, you can get this,” she said.

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