Inoculation sites changing as demand slows

John Kealey, of the Village of Buttonwood, receives his second dose of the Moderna vaccine from Cathy Heater, registered medical assistant, at Pinellas Primary Care Center.

With the majority of seniors 65 and older in the tri-county area fully vaccinated, providers are adjusting to evolving needs as the focus shifts to younger age groups. Perhaps most notably for Villages residents, Global Medical Response closed its mass-vaccination site in Wildwood on Friday.

“As vaccine coverage in the over 65-year-old population is approximately 85% (in Sumter County), the focus of our vaccination activities at the health department has shifted to encourage vaccination among younger age groups and among harder-to-reach populations,” said Dr. Sanford Zelnick, director, Sumter County Health Department.

Zelnick said patients who still have appointments for second doses with GMR can contact the health department at 352-569-3102 for a new appointment.

The county provides vaccines Mondays and Wednesdays in Bushnell or Fridays in Wildwood. Residents also can contact local private vaccine providers such as pharmacies for their second shot: “Please ensure, however, that your second vaccination is from the same vaccine manufacturer as your first shot,” Zelnick said.

Other recent changes in vaccine distribution locally include:

 >> The Villages Health changing from an appointment-based patient-only system to walk-in availability three times a week for the general public;

 >> Marion County ending operations at Paddock Mall late last month to consolidate at its main office in east Ocala;

 >> Pharmacies and the VA’s The Villages Outpatient Clinic also moving from appointments to walk-ins.

Expected Drop-off Arrives

GMR administered more than 46,000 vaccinations at drive-up sites, Zelnick said, most recently at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

“We started this journey on Jan. 19, 2021, and our caregivers worked compassionately and diligently to vaccinate more than 85% of adults 65 and older in Sumter County,” said Brett Jovanovich, regional vice president of Global Medical Response, in a statement Friday.

Overall, that’s an average of 350-plus doses daily for GMR alone.

More than four months later, all vaccination sites in Sumter County combined averaged

five doses daily from May 28 to June 3, according to the Florida Department of Health. 

The drop-off has long been anticipated, with Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioning the likelihood in March when the age for vaccination dropped to adults 50 and older. Demand also is dropping nationally, as evidenced by the White House recently committing to send other countries 20 million doses of the three vaccines approved for use in the U.S., a first.

The director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and most members of the medical community continue to push for vaccinations. Patients with questions should talk with their doctors.

Risk Exists for Youngsters

While children are less prone to COVID-19 or severe consequences, they can have severe side effects in some cases — and can contribute to spreading the disease, said Kelly Gurka, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, whose two teenage daughters were vaccinated earlier this month.

“We wanted to get them vaccinated so that they are not only personally protected against COVID-19, but also so that we can contribute to achieving herd immunity in our community,” she said. “... We know that severe outcomes associated with COVID-19 occur among children even though they are rare. There is an abundance of data to suggest that the vaccines are safe, with the administration of millions of doses to date and unprecedented safety monitoring.”

Younger residents of the tri-county area interviewed in recent months also have cited ease of travel this summer as a reason for vaccination. Some states have eased regulations for tourists who are fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks have passed since receiving their final dose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday revised its guidelines for summer camps to more closely match its overall guidelines with children 12 and up able to be vaccinated; visit bit.ly/CDCsummercampcovid (link is case sensitive) for specifics.

Finding Vaccines for Kids

Sumter health officials already have arranged two rounds of events for children ages 12 to 17 in public schools and Villages Charter School to receive Pfizer vaccine, approved for ages 12 and older.

Some pharmacies also have had Pfizer available to residents. Marion County offered Pfizer to residents of neighboring counties, such as Sumter, in its main office at 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Mondays and Tuesdays

3 to 6 p.m., appointments preferred. Lake County offered Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine upon request at a recent event for standard school vaccinations such as measles, polio and others.

“I think vaccines are one of the single greatest public health achievements of our time,” Gurka said. “Most of us have not had to live with the vaccine-preventable diseases that our parents and grandparents faced because vaccines have been around since we ourselves were children.”

Moderna, widely available in Sumter and approved for ages 18 and older, recently completed a study of ages 12 and older. Approval could come this summer if the timeline unfolds similarly to Pfizer’s when its age of approval was lowered to 12.

Reaching Adults Under 55

A back-to-school rush also could give adults who are interested in the COVID-19 vaccine another reason to stop putting it off and beat the lines that might soon build up.

So could full approval of the vaccines, which remain under emergency-use authorization.

Employers, the military and health systems would have the ability to require vaccination if federal authorities grant full approval, which could happen soon, said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

“That will make the biggest difference,” he said.

There’s a clear split in demand for vaccines among age groups: In Sumter, 72% of the population is 55 or older, but those ages accounted for 92% of fully vaccinated people before state data reports changed last week.

“Talk to your medical providers, your caregiver, your doctors, and get informed,” Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, said recently. “This is our way out, our way to protect vulnerable folks, and it’s also something to protect yourself.”

Associated Press contributed. Specialty Editor Bill Zimmerman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or bill.zimmerman@thevillagesmedia.com.