As the residents of the rural areas around Lake Okeechobee wait for a chance to make an appointment for COVID-19 vaccinations, the shortage of vaccine is evident. Although state officials initially indicated the vaccine supply would be allocated based on population, a look at the numbers makes it clear the rural areas are not getting their fair share. Last week, Jared Moskowitz, the state’s director of emergency management, said the allocations were based on the percentage of seniors in the county, but the numbers still do not match up.
The 2019 census estimate (the most recent data available) for the population of Florida was 21,477,737 with about 20% over the age of 65 for 4,295,547 seniors . As of the Feb. 1 report issued by the Florida Department of Health report on Feb. 2, 1,747,761 persons had been vaccinated in Florida, representing 40% of those over age 65 or about 8% of the total population.
The rural counties around the lake have not received enough vaccine to keep up with the state average.
Another complication: The census population does not include seasonal residents, and seasonal residents qualify for vaccination in Florida. Most of the seasonal residents are retirees, over the age of 65. The influx of the “snowbirds” skews the population balance. For example, year round population of Okeechobee County has about 20% over the age of 65, but winter residents can more than double the senior population.
Consider the rural counties around Lake Okeechobee:
• The 2019 census estimate for Okeechobee County was 42,168 and the census indicates 20.1 percent of the population is over age 65, for an estimated 8,475 seniors (not counting seasonal residents). As of the Feb. 1 report, 2,698 people had been vaccinated, equivalent to 31% of the county’s seniors or about 6% of the county population.
• Glades County’s census population is 12,884 with 25% over 65, for 3,221 seniors. As of the Feb. 1 report, 602 people had been vaccinated, equal to about 19% of the county’s seniors, or 4.6% of the county population.
• Hendry County’s census population is 42,022 with 13.8% over age 65 for 5,799 seniors. As of the Feb. 1 report 2,038 people had been vaccinated which is about 35% of the county’s seniors or 4.8% of the county population.
Compare that to coastal counties:
• Palm Beach County’s census population is 1,496,770 with 24% over the age of 65 for 359,224 seniors. As of Feb. 1, 163,707 people had been vaccinated. That’s equivalent to 45% of the seniors or 11% of the county population.
• Collier County’s census population is 321,520 with 32% over the age of 65 for 102,886 seniors. As of Feb. 1, 39,991 people were vaccinated, equal to about 39% of the seniors or 12% of the county population.
• Martin County’s census population is 161,000 with 28% over the age of 65 for 45,080 seniors. As of the Feb. 1 report, 19,637 people had been vaccinated. That’s equivalent to 43.5% of the county’s seniors or 12% of the county population.
In a Jan. 27 letter to Moskowitz, the Small County Coalition called on the state to “clarify the algorithm used to determine allotments to counties and make it known to the local communities so they can plan effectively.”
The coalition also noted some counties are experiencing a high rate of citizens from out of county coming to their county to get shots. This “shot hunting” leaves the impression that the allotment from one county is being used by residents from other counties.
There was an observation that some citizens were making duplicate appointments effectively securing multiple reservations that should be freed up when a resident receives a vaccine, the coalition stated.
The coalition officers, John Meeks of Levy County, Terry Burroughs of Okeechobee County and Russell Melendy of Hardee County asked for a Zoom call with Moskowitz regarding current and future vaccination plans.