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Here’s What Florida’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout May Look Like

WLRN Vaccine Rollout
A lab technician sorts blood samples for a COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Fla., on Aug. 13, 2020.

Florida may be less than two weeks away from distributing a vaccine for COVID-19. Next week, an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration will consider whether to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States for widespread use.

Once the vaccine arrives in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis says employees and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to be administered the vaccine.

Next, in order of priority, are healthcare workers in high-risk situations, then seniors over 65 years old. That’s slightly different from the recommendations made by a federal advisory panel. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices named health care workers as its top priority.

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Dr. Jason Goldman is part of that federal advisory panel. He and Jason Hand of the Florida Senior Living Association discussed the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine on the Florida Roundup with hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross.

Here is an excerpt from the conversation.

TOM HUDSON: Do you agree that long-term care residents should be the top priority for any approved vaccine?

JASON GOLDMAN: What the CDC recommended was health care workers before long-term care facility residents, because when you look at vaccines and protection, you have to look not only at risk of death, but also risk of acquiring the disease. So, those most at risk for actually getting the disease, or those who are most exposed, healthcare workers, hospitals, doctors offices, etc. Whereas those who are in long-term care facilities and other settings may have other mitigation strategies, protective equipment, screening of staff and employees to protect them from getting the disease other than just the vaccine.

So, the CDC put out interim guidance suggesting that those most at risk for getting the disease and getting severe illness should be vaccinated first and foremost. And that's why healthcare workers were on the top of the priority list from the CDC.

HUDSON: The governor’s priority, top of the list, were those residents at long-term care facilities. Is that a mistake?

GOLDMAN: What I would say is that the CDC puts out guidance based on data, evidence, studies and really looks to see what the best use of the vaccines are, their guidance, their recommendations.

Every state has to look at their own infrastructure localities to see what is the best use of the vaccine for that state.

MELISSA ROSS: What can you tell us about how you think this will be coordinated with senior living facilities around the state?

JASON HAND: We've been working with the state for a while now on the draft vaccination plan. One of the benefits that this initial rollout has to offer all the communities that are signing up for this option will basically serve as a conduit for local pharmacies to implement the vaccination.

So we'll have CVS and Walgreens right now and maybe, in the future, more pharmacies. They will be able to come to these communities to do the shots, keep the records and everything. So our communities will want to reach out to residents and staff to see if [they want] to voluntarily agree to take the vaccinations.

And they'll need to work on staggering their timelines with staff as we roll this out through the holiday season. But, you know, luckily, the way this program is set up — with the pharmacies really implementing everything — it takes a lot of the burden off of our long-term communities.

Ross: Yes, it'll be interesting to see how the pharmacies play a key role in this, you know, it's interesting to look at where seniors are. They've been surveyed. A national survey that came out right around Thanksgiving said that most seniors are willing to get the vaccine, but that six in 10 seniors are worried they will have to pay for the vaccine. What are you hearing from your senior communities about that, that they're a little concerned about the cost?

HAND: That's one thing we haven't heard much of yet. That's something that we'll have to hear from the state as to who is paying for it, whether our seniors, will pay themselves through their insurance, whether the state will pay, or the federal government. So that that's something we'll have to see how this is implemented and if it is an option that is seriously considered.

Again, the initial rollout, it's voluntary for everybody. You know, if they don't want to get a shot now and want to wait and see about getting the vaccination later through to their doctor, that's an option for them.

Denise Royal produces The Florida Roundup. Her broadcast experience includes writing and producing for NBC’s The Today Show, Weekend Today, Weekend Nightly News, and MSNBC. She also worked as a Writer/Producer for ABC News and Nightly Business Report on PBS.