- April 7, 2021
Spurred by the state, Manatee County is changing its COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
Gov. Ron DeSantis opened vaccine appointments to all Floridians 18 and older April 5. As more people gain access to vaccines, Manatee County shifted away from its lottery system after depleting its standby pool.
The county will switch to a first-come, first-serve system starting April 21.
Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the Manatee County Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health, said demand has decreased for vaccine doses given at Manatee County-run vaccination sites, such as the ones located at Tom Bennett Park in East County. She said the county prevents any doses from going unused by opening the vaccine one vial at a time after 2 p.m., thus ensuring unused doses can still be stored properly after each mass vaccination clinic ends.
East County residents have a variety of opinions about COVID-19 vaccines. Myakka City resident Chris Constantinou said he received his first dose through Sarasota County on the first day Florida residents under age 40 could receive one, April 5. He travels often and said it will be easier to do so in the future if he is vaccinated.
Deena and Caprey King, who live off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, don’t plan to get vaccinated, at least for the near future. Deena King said she had COVID-19 in July, so she believes antibodies will protect her for now.
“That’s safer,” Deena King said. “It’s already in my body.”
Her teenage daughter, Caprey King, is concerned about how quickly the vaccine became available. She said she wants to wait and see if there are any long-term effects.
Although Bencie said vaccine hesitancy does play a part in the decreased demand at county mass vaccination clinics, she doesn’t believe it is the biggest reason. Instead, Bencie said people are now receiving the vaccine through local pharmacies or their personal doctors, adding it is easier to find alternative avenues for receiving vaccines thanks to tools such as vaccinefinder.org, which is partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I believe that people will hopefully be more apt to go to where they're used to going,” Bencie said. “(Mass clinics are) not for everyone in the community. So we need to make sure that everyone who wants the vaccine can get the vaccine through their own resources.”
Bencie said Manatee County will evaluate how successful the initial first-come, first-serve vaccine clinic is and then decide if they should be held at different hours going forward. The county has generally held its clinics on weekdays in the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. range, although a clinic was held at Tom Bennett Park the weekend of April 10-11 that could help determine if weekend and evening clinics are a better option moving forward, especially as the county starts vaccinating people within age groups that are more likely to have jobs or children.
Eventually, there will come a time when Manatee County stops holding mass vaccination clinics because of decreased demand, according to Bencie.
“There are so many other places now where individuals can go and also choose the type of vaccine they want, that we assume that the (mass clinics) will eventually become something of the past,” Bencie said.
This doesn’t mean the county will stop receiving vaccines from the state. Instead, Manatee County would distribute vaccines to eligible providers, such as hospitals, urgent care centers, private physician offices, hospices and homeless assistance facilities. This process has already started over the past month.
“Eventually, this will be something similar to the flu vaccine, where you can go to your providers in the community to receive your vaccine,” Bencie said.
The county also plans to use mobile units to distribute the vaccine to hard-to-reach populations, such as migrant workers and underserved communities.