COVID-19 vaccinations

Bill Noble,  of the Village of Bridgeport at Lake Miona, rolls up his sleeve as he prepares to get the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from Marcia Scott at a drive through vaccine site near Buffalo Ridge Shopping Center in The Villages.

A nationwide COVID-19 vaccine shortage is creating postponements and frustrations among Florida seniors hoping to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, which has infected some 1.6 million people in the state and killed more than 24,500 — 83% of them 65 or older. Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said the state has little choice but to wait for the federal government — and vaccine manufacturers — to increase vaccine allotments being sent to the states.

This affected a mass vaccination effort in The Villages by the company Global Medical Response, which temporarily put operations on hold this week. GMR had booked 7,500 appointments for the week not anticipating a disruption in deliveries, a representative from the company said. It will pick up where it left off when vaccines arrive.

Other local immunization sites and health departments are awaiting more vaccines as well, and states across the country are reporting lack of vaccines just as vaccination efforts ramp up.

As of Tuesday, 10,432 people in Sumter County, 25,545 in Lake County and 19,256 people in Marion County had been vaccinated.

Did Global Medical Response completely shut down operations in The Villages?

No. GMR had to take down tents and pack up its equipment at the designated area at Buffalo Ridge Shopping Center because it did not want to leave it out in the open for a undetermined amount of time. When vaccines arrive, GMR will reschedule the 7,500 appointments in the order they were originally scheduled and operations will begin again. Appointments already made for second doses will remain as scheduled until further notice.

When will GMR have vaccines?

That is contingent upon vaccine availability. GMR reports to the state each day how many people are signed up through their program, which was 65,000 as of Wednesday. It then waits for the state to communicate how many doses will come and when. GMR had confirmation on neither as of Wednesday. A representative of GMR said in the future, it will only release vaccine appointments for the vaccines it has.

What if I signed up through GMR, but hadn’t made an appointment yet?

You will remain on a wait list, with sign-ups recorded in the order they were received. You have not lost your place in line.

I haven’t signed up yet, but I want a vaccine. Should I still sign up with GMR?

Yes. GMR encourages people to still sign up at https://sumterfl.saferestart.net for two reasons: It puts you on a wait list for when vaccines do become available, and it helps them quantify demand for the vaccine, which it reports to the state. Anyone with questions can email sumtercovid19@gmr.net.

Can I get a vaccine anywhere else?

The Lake County Health Department closed one vaccination site last week and said in a news release that it would open a new site in Groveland after “the next large shipment of vaccines comes in.” Its remaining vaccines will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 6803 Old Highway 441 S., Mount Dora, beginning at 11 a.m. today. Marion County Health Department had to suspend vaccine sign-ups after it reached 50,000 registrants. The Mulberry Grove Shopping Plaza Publix is one of more than 100 Publix locations in Florida distributing vaccines. After 6 a.m. Friday, eligible customers can access appointment availability for Saturday. Go to publix.com/covidvaccine. Lake County government launched an appointment system for vaccines it will give at a separate location. Go to scheduling.lakecountyfl.gov/. Text COVIDUPDATE to 888777 for updates.

Is this vaccination shortage unique to The Villages and tri-county area?

No. A number of states are reporting running out of the vaccine and tens of thousands of people who managed to get an appointment for a first dose are now seeing them canceled. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations of how much vaccine was on the way.

Will vaccine availability improve with a new presidential administration?

President Joe Biden has promised to provide 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations for 50 million people in his first 100 days in office. Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, said it’s an attainable goal, but it will be extremely challenging.

What about people coming from out of state to get vaccines?

Gov. Ron DeSantis is working on guidelines meant to stop COVID-19 vaccination “tourism” in Florida. Appearing at two news conferences Tuesday, DeSantis said he wants to make sure the state’s COVID-19 vaccine supply is being directed to Florida residents. “That can include people who live here half the year, but it’s not for people just visiting,” the governor said during an appearance in Rockledge. The new rule will require a proof of residency in Florida, like a driver’s license or utility bill. The effort came after media reports about people from outside the state coming to Florida to get vaccinated.

With Pfizer slowing up vaccine production at its Belgium plant to expand operations there, is that affecting why vaccines are so short?

No. Pfizer has a Michigan facility for U.S. production, however, European countries are feeling the brunt of the slowdown in Belgium.