OKEECHOBEE – Raulerson Hospital started vaccinating health care providers this morning at 7 a.m. according to information shared at the Dec. 23 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commissioners.
Tiffany Collins, of the Okeechobee Health Department, said the Okeechobee County has received a shipment of the Moderna vaccine. She said the hospital will vaccinate health care providers there and the health department will focus on health care providers who are not affiliated with the hospital. Collins said paramedics and EMTs who want to be vaccinated will be included.
She said vaccinations of staff and residents at longterm care facilities will be taken care of by CVS and Walgreens. Her understanding is the first round of those vaccinations will be staff.
Mitch Smeykal of the Emergency Operations Center said nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be vaccinated in the next few weeks.
“This is really great news for rural communities to be able to get these vaccinations as quickly as our urban counterparts,” said Collins.
This first round of vaccinations is not open to the general public, she added.
She said the governor has not yet indicated who will be next in line for vaccinations after health care workers and staff and residents of longterm care facilities.
“We’re going to be getting the health care workers done, then we will move on to whatever we are directed for the next phase,” she said.
Smeykal said they are working on plans to offer drive-thru vaccinations of Okeechobee County residents when the vaccine is available. He said the drive-thru vaccinations will be those over the age of 16 for the Moderna vaccine, and age 18 for Pfizer.
He said vaccinations for children, when they become available, will be offered at clinics set up at the schools.
“The vaccine is getting out,” said Smeykal. He said if they can vaccinate as well as they did in 2009 and 2010, they should get good coverage in the community.
Smeykal said it is important for those who are vaccinated to come back for the second shot.
Pfizer and the German biotechnology company BioNTech developed the COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use by the FDA on Dec. 11. Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass., developed a COVID-19 vaccine that was authorized Dec. 18.
Both vaccines require two doses. The second Pfizer shot is administered 21 days after the first shot. Moderna’s second dose is given 28 days after the fist.
He said there are a lot of false rumors circulating about the vaccines and urged anyone with questions to refer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, cdc.gov.
Okeechobee County Public Safety Director/Fire Chief Ralph Franklin said he is working with the City Fire Department to make sure their EMTs and paramedics are included in the first round of vaccinations. He said they will also have an agreement with the Florida Department of Health for the paramedics to assist with administering the vaccinations.
He said five Okeechobee County Fire/Rescue staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started. None of the five had to be hospitalized. Currently nine Fire/Rescue staff are isolating due to exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
“So far our employees are stepping up and taking the overtime to keep us up and running,” said Franklin.
Collins said since testing started, Okeechobee has had 2,285 COVID-19 positive cases and 50 covid-related deaths. In the past three weeks, the county has seen a positivity rate 8.21% .
She said the county is averaging 11 new cases a day. Total positivity rate since testing began is almost 16%.
She said eight COVID-19 positive residents are currently hospitalized. Five of Raulerson Hospital’s eight ICU beds are in use.
In other business, Franklin said food bank visits are planned for Jan. 5, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Coquina Water Control District and Jan. 9 from 8-11 a.m. at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center.
He said they are watching weather for the weekend in case cold weather shelters are needed.