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Northeast Florida health officials say it could be months before COVID-19 vaccine is readily available

With the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, details of how long it will take for the general public to get shots are still being worked out.
With the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, details of how long it will take for the general public to get shots are still being worked out.

With the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, details of how long it will take for the general public to get shots are still being worked out.

Some local health officials are warning it could be months before average citizens without underlying health conditions could have access to a vaccine.

“The moment that EUA (emergency use authorization) is given, they will probably be distributing vaccine in probably 24 hours. So give you a little feel of what that is like at Clay County level, where we have 220,000 residents, is it’s going to be very limited,” said Clay County Health Department Director Heather Huffman at a recent meeting of the Clay County Board of Commissioners. “It’s not going to be available for the general public as soon as this hits. And I think it’s important that we message that -- that it will be readily available as we move into the months of 2021, but not here day one.”

In addition to Clay County, News4Jax reached out to other counties in Northeast Florida -- including Duval, Nassau and St. Johns -- about their vaccine roll out plans and was still waiting to hear back from them as of Monday afternoon.

News4Jax has also spoken with workers in the health care and assisted living industries about the availability of the vaccine. We are hearing the first available doses could be shipped out sometime between Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, but that is contingent on an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“My understanding is that in Florida, the first priority will be nursing home and assisted living. Then subsequent to that, vaccinations will be rolled out for seniors that live independently, whether it’s in an assisted living facility campus or low-income housing,” said Leading Age Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer.

Bahmer, who also served on a planning subcommittee with the Florida Department of Health on a plan for the vaccine rollout, said long-term care facilities received first priority to get the vaccine, along with hospitals. He added that seniors who live in low-income housing can also get the vaccine early.

With the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, details of how long it will take for the general public to get shots are still being worked out.
With the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, details of how long it will take for the general public to get shots are still being worked out.

After that, the vaccine will go to a few different groups. In Clay County, Huffman said, first responders, other medical professionals and workers in certain government offices will also get priority. There will also be early vaccines for people with underlying medical conditions.

“Then it moves into a broader category of people that can get vaccinated, including people with a high risk of complications,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention. “Those that have disabilities or other co-morbid conditions, they’re going to be the next ones targeted.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line for the initial, limited supply.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


About the Author:

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.