Villages vaccination site set to reopen Thursday

Gov. Ron DeSantis was at the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood on Monday to address the media about added dosages and the accessibility to the COVID-19 vaccinations coming to the state.

A boost in Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine shipments will support the reopening of the Global Medical Response drive-thru vaccination site at Buffalo Ridge Shopping Plaza in The Villages. The site will reopen Thursday with 4,000 Moderna vaccine doses, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced during a visit to the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood on Monday. This week, the state also will set aside about 1,500 doses for homebound seniors, with more information to come on how those will be distributed, DeSantis said. The announcement came on a day when Florida reported 5,730 additional cases of COVID-19, the lowest single-day count since Nov. 12, according to the Florida Department of Health. Since the pandemic’s start 11 months ago, Florida has had more than 1.7 million cases, with 83% of 26,685 deaths coming from those who are 65 and older, the target of the state’s vaccine priority. The governor said Florida will receive a boost of about 41,000 more doses than the 266,000 it has been receiving per week.

“And because of that increase, we are able to announce that beginning this Thursday that drive-thru site will be able to be open again, but this time it’s going to be a permanent vaccination site,” DeSantis said. “We are going to feed 4,000 doses to that site on a permanent basis as long as our supply remains what it is.”

Global Medical Response (GMR) opened a large-scale drive-thru vaccination site at 3800 Wedgewood Lane in Buffalo Ridge Shopping Plaza on Jan. 12 and gave out 4,000 doses that week. It had to suspend operations and put about 7,500 appointments on hold on Jan. 16 after GMR did not receive additional doses the following week. Since then, Sumter County Health Department has been helping vaccinate people from that list to help reduce the wait.

DeSantis acknowledged the site ran through its first shipment very quickly because demand was so high.

“(The drive-thru site) was so successful, we said if you use it we will work to get you more and finally we’re able to get 41,000 doses on top of our normal allotment, and this is a beneficiary of that,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to keep doing it and keep working hard and put seniors first.”

GMR will reach out to people with postponed appointments with instructions on how to make a new appointment. First-dose appointments will start Thursday and take place through Saturday, then both first- and second-dose appointments will start up on Feb. 9. The 4,000 doses it’s getting from the state this week is in addition to 3,000 it had in reserve.

More than 70,000 people have signed up for a vaccine through GMR. Those people are still on a wait list, and will get a code for an appointment as the site gets more vaccines.

To sign up for a vaccine with GMR, go to sumterfl.saferestart.net. Do not add “www” to the URL, as it can result in a security warning. Though you will not be charged, the form will ask for insurance information and Social Security numbers, which the company needs for its own reimbursement purposes and to verify identity ahead of time. Add in all ones or zeros if you do not feel comfortable adding Social Security information and that information will be collected on site.

The Lake County Health Department is offering vaccinations at Lake Square Mall in Leesburg by appointment only. Appointments depend on vaccine availability and can be made by calling 866-201-6909 or going to myvaccine.fl.gov, the state’s preregistration system.

The preregistration system allows residents to put in their contact information and location, and they will be alerted when vaccine appointments open up nearby. Those eligible to preregister are residents 65 and older, long-term care residents and staff, and front-line health care workers. Hospital providers also may vaccinate those they deem extremely vulnerable to COVID, which UF Health Central Florida doesn’t have the doses to do at this time. Call to preregister for Sumter County: 866-201-7196, Lake: 866-201-6909, Marion: 866-201-6768.

Marion County Health department is trying to vaccinate the 50,000 people who registered before it suspended sign-ups. It’s distributing about 3,000 vaccines per week.

Close to 30% of Florida’s 4.5 million seniors have gotten at least one shot, DeSantis said, or about 1.25 million.

DeSantis hopes to expand distribution even further, if the state can get even more doses. He said between hospitals, community sites and Publix locations, the infrastructure exists to get even more shots in arms.

“We will continue feeding these vaccination sites,” he said. “Every single site we have can be expanded. So you have the drive thru site in The Villages, we can add a lane or two as long as we have a sufficient number of vaccines.”

The governor and the one-week-old President Joe Biden administration have clashed over vaccine availability and how to administer vaccines to the rest of Florida’s seniors. The Biden administration is proposing a series of FEMA vaccination camps to help states, but DeSantis has said the problem isn’t logistics or people to administer the vaccine, it’s just having the doses.

“Our goal is putting seniors ahead of politics,” DeSantis said in shaking off questions about procedures with federal officials.

Publix stores in 20 counties, including the Mulberry Grove Shopping Plaza location, are distributing vaccines. The governor said to, “stay tuned” for more information on that effort expanding as well.

For appointments with Publix, go to publix.com/covidvaccine after 6 a.m. Wednesday to check for availability.

Specialty Editor Mackenzie Raetz can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5354, or mackenzie.raetz@thevillagesmedia.com.