Florida outlines plan to provide COVID-19 vaccine

Florida plans to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for front-line workers at hospitals, nursing homes and senior centers and first responders when a vaccine becomes available.

State officials outlined a three-phase vaccination rollout under a draft plan Florida was required to submit to the federal government this month.

When the supply of COVID-19 vaccinations becomes more plentiful, the state would enter the second phase of the plan, which would include county health departments opening mass vaccination clinics. Also, the Florida Department of Health and the state Division of Emergency Management “might open such clinics to ensure there is equitable distribution of the vaccine, in the same way COVID-19 testing was made available,” the report said.

Also in the second phase, hospitals willing to partner with the state would provide vaccinations to inpatients and outpatients who seek care in emergency rooms, urgent-care centers and outpatient clinics.

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Commercial pharmacies wouldn’t be given vaccination supplies until the third phase, under the 51-page draft dated Oct. 16.

The state based its draft plan on recent experiences with the hepatitis A vaccination program, launched by Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees, as well as vaccination activities related to the H1N1 pandemic and annual seasonal flu.

It’s not clear when a vaccine for COVID-19 will be approved for use in the United States, though the federal government has tried to expedite the production through Operation Warp Speed. As researchers have worked on development of a vaccine, widespread questions have been raised about how a vaccine would be initially distributed.

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Medical syringe is seen with 'covid-19' sign displayed on a screen in the background in this illustration photo taken in Poland on October 12, 2020. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

While the timeline may not be clear, the state Department of Health is taking steps to try to ensure a smooth delivery.

To help ensure proper supply for front-line workers, the state has been surveying hospitals and long-term care facilities about the numbers of staff and also can track the number of licensed health-care providers at the county level through the Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Division.

County health departments are being asked to run a “vaccination administration exercise” before Dec. 1 to ensure they can respond during the second phase of the plan and provide vaccinations to the broader public.

Using seasonal influenza vaccination activities, the 67 county health departments are being asked in the exercise to increase the number of daily vaccinations and implement social distancing and COVID-19 mitigation measures into logistical planning for mass vaccination clinics and expand use of personal protective equipment.  The county health departments must report the experiences back to the state.

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The Florida Department of Health on Wednesday reported 4,115 new cases of COVID-19. They also reported 67 more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 16,775.

The statewide case total since the start of the pandemic is now at 790,426.

COVID-19 has underscored disparities in health care, with Black and Latino Americans more likely to die from the disease than whites. In Florida, as of Oct. 13, the COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 population were 92.4, 75.6 and 64.7 for Black, Latino and white people, respectively, according to APM Research Lab. Asian-Americans had the lowest COVID-19 death rate in Florida, with 35.8 per 100,000 population.

To address the disparities. the Department of Health draft report noted that the department will “leverage community partners, community health workers and health educators to identify, estimate and provide outreach to ensure health equity efforts,”