Vaccine scarcity will cause months of waiting

David Bauerlein
| Florida Times-Union

With a U.S. Coast Guard cap on his head and a needle in his shoulder, Calvin Work sat inside a UF Health Jacksonville building where in the blink of an eye, a nurse injected the vaccine that will give him a man-made defense against the COVID-19 virus.

Work, 75, of Baker County had no qualms about getting the vaccine. He was used to keeping an updated shot record during his time in the Coast Guard. He got the first dose Jan. 9 and the second dose last Thursday, completing the cycle.

“It’s kind of exciting to be one of the first to get the vaccine, and hopefully, everything works out as they planned and it’s widespread enough that everybody who wants one can get it,” he said.

Achieving vaccinations on that scale will take many more months — the exact time frame remains up in the air —  in Northeast Florida and across the nation.

The injection itself is as simple and quick as any medical procedure can be, but the supply of the vaccine is running so far behind the demand that federal officials say it will likely take until summer for everyone who wants it to get it.

Duval County offers a sobering snapshot of how much ground remains to be covered.

A U.S. Census report issued last week concluded that nationwide, roughly three-fourths of adults either had gotten the vaccine or want to receive it when it’s available to them. That proportion would equate to 563,000 Duval County residents who are 18 or older getting vaccinated.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses for full effectiveness so that means it would require giving a total of around 1.12 million doses to complete the vaccinations of those Duval County residents.

Through Sunday, the vaccination program had administered 96,293 doses to Duval County residents, so it would take another 1 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to close that gap.

The number of vaccine doses given to Duval County residents has averaged close to 2,900 per day over the past three weeks. It would take almost a year at that pace to inject 1 million doses.

The state has used a “Seniors First” strategy to put a priority on getting older Florida residents vaccinated. In Duval County, 65 percent of the people vaccinated so far are 65 and older.

The initial round of vaccinations also are for front-line health care workers and long-term care facility staff. The state has not said how it will expand vaccinations beyond those groups.

Gov Ron DeSantis has joined a chorus of governors saying they can dramatically ramp up how many vaccines are given each day if only the federal government supplied more doses to their states. DeSantis said Florida could double vaccinations.

But the federal government can only ship as many doses as it gets from the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines. President Joe Biden’s administration says the manufacturing plants are running full tilt but it won’t be until the summer when everyone who wants a vaccine can get it.

The Biden administration has been looking at ways to accelerate production.

In addition, Johnson & Johnson is on the verge of seeking emergency use authorization for its vaccine that only requires a single dose, though it is less effective than the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that are being used now in the United States.

“It is hopeful that we have potential one-dose vaccines that are easier to store and easier to distribute,” said Duval County Medical Society President Elizabeth DeVos.

She said while there is frustration over the amount of vaccine available in light of the demand, the production of the COVID-19 vaccines has been “far ahead of the traditional vaccine development.”

“Sometimes, I think we have to temper our expectations a little because I think this is a lot faster than things typically come to market,” she said.

She said that while the demand for the vaccines has caused frustration when people try to book appointments, state and city government have shown they can administer the doses “pretty much as quickly as we’ve received them.”

The scarcity of the vaccine has already cut short the city of Jacksonville’s attempt to expand vaccination sites.

The city turned the Mandarin Senior Center and the Lane Wiley Senior Center into six-day per week sites in January. The city give first-dose vaccination to 11,925 Duval County residents and hoped to add other city-run sites across the county.

But the city halted the first-dose vaccinations after the state said it couldn’t supply doses for the continued operation. Now, the city is just administering second doses for those who went to the senior center but stands ready to operate city-run sites when the state says it can supply them.

The state in turn can only provide what it gets each week from the doses sent by the federal government.

“It’s easy to be frustrated,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said. “The situation is what it is right now — a very large, organized effort that has to happen all over the United States to all the states and cities and counties.”

“My goal is to build relationships to get the vaccine to the people of Jacksonville as quickly as we can — no politics, no games,” Curry said. “We’re all in this together to eradicate this virus.”

The state has turned to Publix to add vaccinations sites in some counties, including in St. Johns County.

Curry said given a choice, his preference would be for the state to give the city the ability to resume running vaccination sites, but if Duval County can get more vaccines at “Publix or any other site” he’s going to “cheerlead for it and be happy about it because that means more people will be safe.”

DeVos said steps such as hand-washing, social distancing, and wearing masks remain important as ever to containing the spread of the virus.

“It’s going to take some time for the vaccine to become available to everyone,” she said. “But I think we are moving in the right direction, and we’ve all been in this together for almost a year already. We need to hold on a little big longer.”


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