- February 11, 2021
With Manatee County seniors expected to remain the priority group for COVID-19 vaccinations until they all are covered, the question concerning other age groups might not be so much when, but where?
The mass vaccinations will continue to be delivered at Tom Bennett Park in East County, but Jacob Saur, the director of public safety for Manatee County, noted that a change in weather could cause a change in venues.
Saur said outdoor distribution sites will not be viable once the weather includes constant rain, heat and the potential for a hurricane. Therefore, Manatee County’s Emergency Management Division has begun working with the county’s Property Management Department to find indoor, air-conditioned and vacant facilities of at least 50,000 square feet that could be used for mass vaccinations.
Saur suggested locations such as abandoned grocery stores or large storage areas might be suitable. He also said indoor vaccination sites are easier to operate than outdoor ones because equipment and other aspects of the setup can be kept in place overnight.
Manatee County began vaccinating its more than 100,000 seniors 65 and above just before Christmas and has been proceeding a few thousand a week. Saur asks Manatee County residents to continue to have patience while seniors and healthcare workers continue to receive the first doses of vaccine.
Saur said the county is committed to vaccinating seniors 65 and older who are registered in the Vaccination Standby Pool unless Gov. Ron DeSantis orders county governments to make vaccines available to other groups of people. Saur said it will be up to DeSantis to decide who is next in line to receive vaccines, though he guesses it could be law enforcement and essential workers.
Saur also said he hopes to see the state focus on partnering with pharmacies going forward. Eighteen Manatee County pharmacies will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccines as soon as Feb. 12, according to Saur.
Seventeen Publix and one Winn-Dixie will be allotted approximately 384 vaccine doses each per week for a total of 6,912, in addition to the doses administered in the county by the Florida Department of Health. Saur said the state of Florida has not yet told Manatee County which locations will be selected for vaccine distribution.
The county will continue to vaccinate as many citizens as it can, but an increase in vaccinations distributed at pharmacies could help in a number of ways.
First, it would decrease the number of people who are relying solely on the county’s Vaccination Standby Pool. Second, it would allow people to receive vaccines in their own communities, which might be an attractive alternative to those who don’t want to drive or can’t drive to the mass vaccination sites.
“Sometimes, residents are very familiar with their pharmacies, and they're very familiar with the things that they interact with every day,” Saur said. “Once the vaccine becomes more readily available, I think more residents, especially the elderly, the underserved populations, African Americans, they'll feel more comfortable in their community getting vaccines.”
Vaccine hesitancy is a problem, too, as it has been across the country. Saur said the county is using its Neighborhood Services Department to provide outreach and help people register for the standby pool in community centers, youth centers, churches and similar places in communities where vaccine hesitancy is a more frequent issue. For example, 500 people were vaccinated at First Community Church of Palmetto on Jan. 31.
Eventually, mobile units could be used to help vaccinate some communities, though Saur does not foresee that happening until there is a marked increase in vaccine supply.