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Pinellas nursing homes will be among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Florida strike teams will be focused on coronavirus vaccinations in areas with high concentrations of long-term care centers.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — People living in long-term care centers in Broward and Pinellas counties will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Florida strike teams will be focused on vaccinations in areas with above-average concentrations of nursing homes.

A U.S. government advisory panel on Thursday endorsed the Pfizer vaccine, produced in partnership with German partner BioNTech, saying it appeared safe and effective for emergency use in people 16 and older. 

One day later, the FDA has officially signed-off on the shots emergency use authorization.

“The FDA’s authorization for emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. 

"Today’s action follows an open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists to ensure this vaccine met FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with key government leaders about vaccine distribution plans. In a video update on Thursday, DeSantis said the federal government had allocated the state 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the first shipment. The governor said those doses are expected to arrive within the week.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two rounds of shots, and it is essential that the second dose is given three weeks after the first. The vaccine has been shown to be about 95 percent effective after both doses.

"We are working to get as much vaccine for our citizens as possible, but Florida will not -- nor will any state -- have enough to vaccinate everyone right off the bat," DeSantis said. "So, we've set priorities to help protect our most vulnerable, as well as those on the frontlines of the pandemic."

The governor reiterated that the top priorities would be vaccinating people living in long-term care facilities and people working in health care. Here's the order for vaccinations:

  1. People in long-term care facilities 
  2. High-risk frontline health care workers
  3. Those 65 and up and anyone with significant comorbidities

DeSantis said the state would be using strike teams from the Florida Department of Health, the Division of Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard to go into long-term care facilities to administer the vaccine in areas with high concentrations of facilities. And, that will reportedly include the Tampa Bay area.

Those strike teams will initially focus on Pinellas and Broward counties, Jared Moskowitz, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, first told Politico.

The Department of Health confirmed to 10 Tampa Bay that Pinellas and Broward would serve as pilot counties for vaccinating people living in skilled nursing facilities and vaccinating the staff members who provide their care.

"The arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Pinellas gives us
another way to protect the most vulnerable Pinellas residents and health-care
workers who have been hard hit by the pandemic as well as those who provide their care," Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, wrote in a statement. "We are honored to be one of the first two Florida counties to begin the vaccination effort in the state." 

Long-term care facility vaccinations may begin early next week in Florida.

"These efforts will supplement those that CVS and Walgreens are preparing to undertake as partners in Operation Warp Speed," DeSantis said.

Tampa General Hospital was chosen to be among the first five hospitals in the state to receive the vaccine, along with ones in Jacksonville, Orlando, Hollywood and Miami.

Here's how the first doses will be allocated:

97,500 doses will be sent to hospitals to administer the vaccine to high-contact and high-exposure health care personnel.

60,450 doses of vaccine will be sent to CVS and Walgreens for use in long-term care facilities. 

21,450 doses of vaccine will be sent directly to strike teams to go into long-term care facilities to administer the vaccine.

RELATED: FDA head expects Pfizer vaccine to be approved soon for emergency use

RELATED: First COVID-19 vaccine could soon arrive in Tampa pending FDA approval

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