Vaccines coming for all; Marion inmates also eligible

Rae Austin, the ORMC Pharmacy Operations Manager, prepares COVID-19 vaccinations for health professional at Ocala Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Ocala Health received 3,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday. They plan to dispense the vaccines at Ocala Regional and West Marion Community Hospital. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted March 25, 2021 | By Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette 

Rae Austin, the ORMC Pharmacy Operations Manager, prepares COVID-19 vaccinations at Ocala Regional Medical Center in this December file photo. By April 5, all adults in Florida will be eligible to get the vaccine. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Twitter Thursday morning that all Florida residents who are 40 or older would be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines starting on March 29 and then to everyone 18 and older a week later.  

“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.” 

Currently, Marion County has vaccinated 88,924 residents, and over 50,000 have completed their vaccination series. Between March 19 and March 25, the county had 37.6 new reported cases and 1.4 COVID-19-related deaths per day. Marion County also had a positivity rate of 4.2% 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. On Thursday he said a Saturday vaccination event for 2,000 still had 1,500 available appointments. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the organization’s headquarters, 2553 E. Silver Springs Blvd. The event is for those 50 and over and requires an appointment 

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 currently eligible, but Ulmer expects that to drop soon. A total of 70 were 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, 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 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.” 


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