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County readies for vaccine distribution

Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf is in line to be among 173 Florida hospitals that will soon receive doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, but it is not certain when they will become available.

In a news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office last week, the state said Florida is preparing to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, pending Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which was later granted.

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Sacred Heart was among the hospital locations in 43 counties on the list to receive the vaccine, as it had not received doses in the first allocation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“The state is able to distribute this vaccine to a large number of hospitals as the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage,” read the release.

“We do not know when a shipment of the Moderna vaccine will reach Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf, but it will likely arrive early next week,” wrote Mike Burke, an Ascension spokesman, in an email last week. “We also don't know how much will be shipped to the hospital.

“We plan to give first priority to our hospital staff who are at greatest risk, including the nurses, doctors and support staff who have potential exposures in the emergency department or inpatient units,” he wrote.

In a news release Monday, the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County wrote that it had been receiving many calls about the vaccine and COVID-19 prevention.

“Rest assured that we are working closely with our local hospitals and emergency management to prepare for mass vaccination projects for Gulf County,” it read.

“Securing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine is a top priority for the state of Florida. A COVID-19 vaccine will be a critical resource to preventing the further spread of the virus and allowing Floridians to return to the normal pace of life,” read the release. “We encourage all Floridians and visitors to discuss the vaccine with their doctor if they have questions.”

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will require a two-shot series, likely meaning that after the first shot, a second one will be administered about three weeks later.

“Allocation of these vaccines are being prioritized by the state emergency operations center and will first be available to hospital workers, healthcare staff and long-term care residents. These priority groups were selected since they are the most at-risk populations to contract the virus,” it read.

Cross Shores Care Center is among the more than 1,000 facilities in the state that has seen an outbreak, with the state reporting 13 residents having tested positive for the coronavirus, although none have had to be transferred. In addition, one staffer has tested positive.

“We don’t yet know when Gulf County will be allocated vaccines,” read the health department release. “As soon as vaccines are available for the public, we will make an announcement. We’ve been planning for this for a long time. We know how to do mass testing events and we are capable of handling mass vaccination events should we need to.”

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Gulf County has seen 80 cases among long-term care residents and staff, about 7 percent of all cases in the county, which is higher than the 5 percent statewide.

In state correctional facilities in Gulf County, 293 inmates, or 24 percent of all cases, have contracted the coronavirus, a much higher percentage than the 2 percent statewide.

As of Monday, the county has seen 1,215 cases, all but 15 of them Florida residents. These cases have required 67 hospitalization, 6 percent of all cases, and have resulted in 26 deaths, about 2 percent. Both percentages are in line with averages statewide.

Among the county’s cases, about three-quarters of them have affected white, non-Hispanic persons, with about one-quarter of them affecting Black, non-Hispanic residents. Of the 26 deaths, 21 have been among whites, and four among Blacks.

The coronavirus has been worse among those age 65 to 84, who account for 52 percent of the hospitalizations and 20 of the total deaths.

While there have been a handful of hospitalizations, there have been no deaths among people age 54 or younger.

The Florida Department of Health Office of Communications has created a webpage for COVID-19 vaccine information for the public. Visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

Also, the statewide call center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can still be reached by dialing 1-866-779-6121 or emailing COVID-19@flhealth.gov.