Walgreens rolls out COVID-19 shot at Florida nursing homes

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Walgreens’ chief medical officer are announcing that Florida nursing homes are among the first in the country where residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19 through a federal government partnership with drugstore chains.

The company said it selected 10 nursing homes in Florida, Ohio and Connecticut to roll out the effort Friday. Next week, Walgreens will ramp up visits to 800 long-term care facilities in 12 states.

The plan is for the pharmacy to eventually visit 35,000 facilities and vaccinate 3 million residents. CVS and other companies are also part of the partnership to deliver shots at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

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DeSantis said the long-term care facilities scheduled for the first day through Walgreens were in Jacksonville. He said he was pleased to learn the drugstore chain was set to start ahead of schedule in Florida. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who is leading Operation Warp Speed, had said earlier this week that the pharmacies would begin administering the shot in more than 1,100 nursing homes next week.

"I appreciate Walgreens for leaning in. There is no time to waste!" DeSantis posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile in Florida, the state fair’s board of directors have postponed the annual event until April. It was originally scheduled for February 11-22. An exact date hasn’t been set and will be based on health and safety developments, officials wrote on the event’s website.

"With no guarantees in our current environment, moving the dates of the Florida State Fair to April 2021 provides a better opportunity to host the large event," the website said. "Additional details surrounding the 2021 Fair and its full health and safety guidelines will be shared in the coming weeks."

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According to the Florida Department of Health, about 1,168,483 people have been diagnosed with the virus since March. About 20,600 people have died from the virus.

Earlier this week, the first vaccines were given to health care workers in Miami, Broward, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando. Residents in some care facilities have also been vaccinated in recent days.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Friday that the state has not revealed any specific plans for COVID-19 vaccine distributions to state prisons or local jails — for either corrections staff or those incarcerated — despite the CDC and other health experts recommending that these at-risk populations be prioritized.

"If we don’t pay attention to prisons, it ends up being a detriment to us all," said Zinzi Bailey, a University of Miami assistant professor who is an investigator for the COVID Prison Project, which tracks coronavirus cases and policies in correctional facilities nationwide. "… There is a lot of movement in and out of a prison, there’s a lot of movement in and out of a jail. ... By not prioritizing (these populations), it makes us a lot more vulnerable."

But the state, along with Walgreens, does have a plan for vaccinating those in nursing homes.

Dr. Kevin Ban, Walgreens’ chief medical officer, told ABC’s "Good Morning America" on Friday that the effort will be quickly expanded in the coming months before the pharmacies can offer the COVID-19 vaccine to the general public in March or early April.

"This is a great moment. There’s a deep sense of pride that all of the people at Walgreens feel," he said.

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Florida began administering the Pfizer’s vaccine at nursing homes in the Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg areas with emergency medical technicians and Florida National Guard medical personnel on Wednesday. DeSantis said he did not want to waste any time as the drugstore chains were set to begin next week.

Over the last six weeks, the number of nursing home patients testing positive statewide has risen from 1 in 200 to 1 in 75, the governor said earlier this week.

Florida is also waiting anxiously to roll out another vaccine by drug maker Moderna.

The Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said late Thursday that his agency will move to quickly authorize the second COVID-19 vaccine to fight the pandemic, hours after the shot won the key endorsement of a government advisory panel.