State opens vaccines to all adults April 5

Don DiMatteo, of the Village of Tamarind Grove, sits in the comfort of his car with his pup Mick as he receives the Moderna vaccine at a Global Medical Response COVID-19 site at Lake Sumter State College Sumterville Campus.

Florida will again lower its age for vaccinations —  to 40 on Monday and to 18 on April 5, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday.

“We have made great progress and I look forward to continuing to work hard to make sure everyone in Florida who wants a shot, can get a shot,” DeSantis said Thursday in announcing the decision. “No mandate, but access for all.”

The state’s Seniors First initiative kept an emphasis on inoculating residents age 65 and up as well as health care workers. In recent weeks, eligibility has expanded as DeSantis said demand was leveling off in older age groups.

In Sumter County, 76.6% of residents ages 65 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine as of Wednesday, according to Florida Department of Health and U.S. Census Bureau figures, with 89.4%  of total doses administered in the county going to that age group. In Lake County, 79.8%  of residents ages 65 and older have been vaccinated with 72%  of the county’s doses going to seniors. In Marion County, 60.6%  of residents ages 65 and older have been vaccinated with 72.7%  of the county’s doses going to seniors.

Statewide, more than 70%  of Florida’s seniors have gotten vaccinated, DeSantis said.

Anecdotally, nearly all seniors who are patients of The Villages Health are telling staff they have had the vaccine.

Statewide, “We’ll probably, at the highest, get to 80%,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lowenkron, chief medical officer of The Villages Health.

The Villages Health has been administering the Moderna vaccine to its current patients ages 50 and up and intends to expand its available supply along with new state guidelines. Appointments are available only through online registration at tvhvaccine.com.

Seeing people on the squares acting more confidently reflects the higher vaccinated percentages, but Lowenkron also advised people to continue acting cautiously and with patience.

“I’d say to keep your guard up,” he said, pointing to hospitalizations still being higher than they had been in December. “COVID-19 is not gone, so keep yourself protected and keep others protected.”

Through Tuesday, slightly more than 5.2 million people had been at least partially vaccinated. More than 2.85 million people in Florida had completed two-dose series or had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health. About 2.35 million had received first doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Among other states also expanding availability, California announced Thursday that vaccines will be available April 15 to anyone 16 and older. 

The White House announced Thursday it was giving $368 million in federal funds starting next month to 47 community health centers across Florida to help with vaccination efforts. Community health centers, which meet a set of federal criteria to qualify, serve vulnerable populations.

Vaccination events at 31 senior communities account for more than 140,000 doses administered, DeSantis said, also crediting more than 100 state and county sites, about 1,600 pharmacies, numerous outreach efforts to homebound seniors and dozens of faith-based sites for the overall effort.

“If you look at the hospitalization and case rates for senior citizens, they have plummeted since the start of our Seniors First strategy,” DeSantis said Thursday, before pointing to another positive statistic. “Florida continues to rank 41st in senior mortality per capita, with 40 states having higher mortality for COVID on a per capita basis than the state of Florida.”

The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this story. Associate Managing Editor Bill Zimmerman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or bill.zimmerman@thevillagesmedia.com.