PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Residents of nursing homes in Pinellas County could start receiving COVID-19 vaccines this week.
The county is one of two pilot counties in a COVID-19 vaccination effort. The Department of Health in Pinellas County said they received 10,700 doses strike teams will help administer at skilled nursing facilities. They expect to start this week.
“Sometimes you can get a little discouraged but you always have to have that little bit of hope. To me, this vaccine’s real hope. It’s real progress. It’s something we can do to start making something better and that makes all the difference in the world,” said Charles Walker, a clinical services coordinator and paramedic for Sunstar Paramedics.
Throughout the pandemic, he's helped evacuate and transport sick residents out of long term care facilities.
“This virus takes a hold of people and sometimes you don’t appreciate how sick someone can get until you see what it’s like to have someone under the influence of this virus,” he said.
Now, Walker says he’ll be among those going into the nursing homes again in the effort to administer the vaccines.
“It’s the first light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve had probably since the beginning just collectively,” Walker said. “But specifically for me what I like about it is this is my opportunity to start hitting back at this virus because this virus hits the people we’re going to be helping so hard.”
After outbreaks and isolation in long term care facilities, long term care residents are a top priority in the state’s first shipment of vaccines.
“This has such a huge impact because of all the mitigation that goes on, they haven’t really been able to have I think a full ability to thrive over these many months,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.
Right now, the doses are being properly stored with the health department expecting to start vaccinations this week. Facilities are preparing, too.
“They’re making space available for these on-site clinics, making sure they’re factoring the social distancing, they’ve been working on getting consent from the residents. Or if the resident can’t consent for themselves or they need a healthcare proxy or power of attorney they’re having those conversations,” said Kirsten Knapp, the director of communications for the Florida Health Care Association.
More doses were expected to be shipped to CVS and Walgreens to administer at long term care facilities, as well.
“It’s almost going to be like a ray of sunshine I think to some of these people and that is probably the best message I can is that this is gonna be something that’s actually going to start making a difference and making a difference is what you want to do as a paramedic,” said Walker.