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Pharmacies await vaccine shipments so shots can begin

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of December 31, 2020)

As Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, the state Health Department and major pharmacies ramp up COVID-19 vaccination programs, Corey’s Pharmacy and its island customers anxiously await their turn.

“Most patients who contact us are looking for it and they want it immediately,” said Mark Frankenberger, owner of Corey’s Pharmacy, 2912 Ocean Drive. “I would take a dose immediately, if I could get one, just to build up immunity.”

Corey’s Pharmacy enrolled in the state Health Department’s vaccination program so it would be ready to serve patients as soon they qualify for vaccines, Frankenberger said Monday.

“Now we’re just waiting to see when they get it and how they move it along,” Frankenberger said. “That’s unknown at this point. We have no idea if that will be tomorrow, or it will be March or April.”

The first phase of vaccines will go only to healthcare workers with direct patient contact, long-term care facility residents and staffers, seniors age 65 and older, and workers deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to interacting with the public, under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Dec. 23 executive order.

As of Sunday, 609 people in Indian River County had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a state Health Department report shows.

On Dec. 21, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital began administering Pfizer’s vaccine to caregivers who could come in contact with patients being treated for the virus, Cleveland Clinic Florida said in a prepared statement.

Since then, the hospital has received a shipment of Moderna vaccine, as well, and started to administer it to caregivers, according to hospital president Dr. Greg Rosencrance.

“A week after receiving our first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, Indian River Hospital continues to vaccinate caregivers according to our phased approach, which emphasized vaccinating patient-facing caregivers first,” Rosencrance said Monday.

“We are now moving through additional phases as vaccine supplies and demands permit. Providing a vaccine for our caregivers is an important step in the fight against COVID-19 and we will continue to offer it, as supply allows, to every caregiver who desires it.”

The hospital had vaccinated 550 caregivers as of the close of business Monday, Rosencrance said.

County Health Departments will begin vaccinating people age 65 and up once shipments start coming in.

“Currently, Indian River County has not received any doses of either vaccine,” said Stacy Brock, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department office in Indian River County.

“As more doses become available, county Health Departments will work with their community partners to provide vaccines to those 65 and older,” Brock said on Dec. 23.

First responders and essential workers are not in the first phase of the state vaccination program under DeSantis’ executive order.

Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown said his team will work with the state Health Department to vaccinate Fire Rescue workers and essential employees when they become eligible.

“The county does not plan to require vaccines for any employees,” Brown said Monday. “[But] we will strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated when vaccines are available for their work group.”

Vaccinations at long-term care facilities are being administered by the facilities and providers, such as CVS and Walgreens, Brown said.

A CVS spokeswoman, Tara Burke, said it will take an estimated 12 weeks to vaccinate 358,000 long-term care patients at 3,300 facilities in Florida.

“We don’t break out the number of doses, facilities or timing in each individual city or state,” Burke said on Dec. 23.

CVS will be administering the Pfizer vaccine in Florida, Burke said.

The long-term care facility vaccination program is a precursor to the general availability of COVID-19 vaccines at all CVS pharmacies nationwide, the company said in a Dec. 21 statement.

CVS will have the capacity to administer 20 million to 25 million shots per month, the statement says.

Walgreens is also working with the federal government to help administer COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff in Florida.

Walgreens anticipates administering vaccinations to nearly 3 million residents and staff members at 35,000 long-term care facilities nationwide, the company said in a Dec. 22 statement.

Walgreens expects vaccines will be available for the general public at its 9,000 stores nationwide by the spring, the company website says. The vaccine will be available at no cost to recipients.

“You'll hear from your local health official or employer directly if you’re eligible for a vaccine,” Walgreens’ website says.