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Some Tampa Bay teachers get COVID-19 vaccine priority

Pinellas and Hillsborough school districts rolled out plans with county health departments to ensure their oldest staff members can get vaccinated.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Every person age 65 or older in the state of Florida is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Governor Ron DeSantis says Florida was the first state to make seniors a priority, however with more than 4 million Floridians in that age category, the demand greatly outweighs the supply.

For weeks, county health departments have reported registration challenges due to crashing websites and overloaded call systems.

It's left some people wondering when educators, especially those 65 or older, will get access to a COVID shot.

RELATED: Pinellas County: COVID-19 vaccine registration site suffers outage

So far, Pinellas and Hillsborough school districts are the only ones in the Tampa Bay area that have been able to secure vaccines for their oldest staff members.

"I just said thank you, Lord, because I had been trying to get myself and my husband registered and ready to go and it’s so hard because the minute they open, it’s all gone," said Suzanne Hester, the principal at Skyview Elementary in Pinellas Park who had failed to snag a vaccine appointment through the county health department.

Hester, 73, has been at Skyview Elementary for nine years and says she never considered retiring because she felt now more than ever, her students, staff, and families needed her encouragement.

"I thought of that song a bridge over troubled waters, and I knew the waters were troubled but that we’d build that bridge for our parents and our community and our staff and we have and we really walked over that bridge together," said Hester who was vaccinated Tuesday thanks to the district's coordination with the health department.

Unfortunately, Hester's 80-year-old husband hasn't been able to get a vaccine appointment due to the overwhelming demand.

RELATED: 'It's unforgivable': Teachers beg Florida governor for vaccines

Hillsborough County Public Schools announced their plans to vaccinate 65+ staff last week thanks to a partnership with Tampa General Hospital.

Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis said they have roughly 1,300 employees in that age bracket but expressed his desire to have all educators prioritized for the vaccine.

"If we’re going to ask teachers, support staff, leaders to be in schools and to have schools open every single day, then we should have to make certain that we provide this vaccine and have it available for not only those that hit a certain threshold related to age but every individual working in a brick and mortar setting connected with children," Davis said.

RELATED: County-by-county COVID-19 vaccine information for Tampa Bay seniors

As of last week, district spokespeople from Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, and Citrus counties did not have plans to get their 65+ staff vaccine priority. The lack of vaccine availability was a running dilemma.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to the Florida Department of Education to get Commissioner Richard Corcoran's thoughts on this.

In an e-mail, a spokesperson said, "Commissioner Corcoran is 100 percent in support of the governor’s vaccination plan and has vocally stated so."

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