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Breaking news: Sacred Heart begins vaccinating staff

Special to the Star

Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to its frontline caregivers Tuesday.

Dr. Heather Wells receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

Among the first recipients were Dr. Heather Wells, Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart primary care doctor, and PJ Schoots, registration representative for Rehabilitation Clinic in Apalachicola.

"Being able to have the COVID-19 vaccination makes me hopeful for our community and our country that we can finally be on the path to getting back to normal," Wells said.

About 22 of the hospital staff were vaccinated Tuesday morning with 44 more scheduled for Wednesday.

Earlier this year, Ascension developed a workgroup to establish an overarching framework for equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines. In accordance with federal, state and local guidance, frontline caregivers are among the first groups eligible to receive the vaccines. For Ascension, this includes both associates and affiliated physicians and providers.

Ascension anticipates the remainder of its associates will be eligible for the vaccine as more doses become available and the distribution process progresses.

“Caregivers continue to lead by example, and I encourage everyone in the communities we serve to get vaccinated when it’s made available to them,” said Robin Godwin, vice president of nursing at Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf. “It’s important that we do everything possible to demonstrate that the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and work to ensure all people ultimately have access to them.”

All approved vaccines required extensive research, documentation and closely monitored clinical trials to determine effectiveness and safety before being submitted by pharmaceutical companies for approval. When COVID-19 vaccines are available for consumers, Ascension sites of care will share information about vaccine availability.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-315, which provides that during this first phase of vaccine administration, all providers administering any COVID-19 vaccine shall only vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff; persons 65 years of age and older; and health care personnel with direct patient contact.

Hospitals, however, also may vaccinate persons who they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.

Santis also announced that in addition to hospitals, county health departments will begin vaccinating individuals 65 and older in the coming weeks as supply permits. At this time, a limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine has been received by select county health departments; as more doses become available, county health departments will work with their community partners to provide vaccines to those 65 and older.

Over the past two weeks, more than 170 hospitals across the state have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, and as a part of their allocation, hospitals received enough doses to vaccinate their entire frontline health care staff and have vaccine remaining.