Coronavirus vaccinations begin at long-term care facilities in Florida

Florida is first state to vaccinate inside nursing homes, governor says

Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Pompano Beach to kick off the inoculation of senior citizens at long-term care facilities.

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – A group of skilled nursing residents and healthcare staff from the John Knox Village in Pompano Beach were among those receiving their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

“We’re excited to be selected the first community in Broward County to receive the vaccine,” said Director of Health Services Mark Rayner.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday during a stop at the senior living community that Florida is the first state to vaccinate inside nursing homes.

Walgreens and CVS will start inoculating more people at these types of facilities, likely beginning on Monday. DeSantis said the companies will be receiving 60,000 doses of the vaccine, which he said is likely enough to last them for a week to 10 days. But Florida wanted to get started sooner, so it sent in a strike team involving the national guard, nurses and emergency workers to begin the process at long-term care facilities Wednesday.

More than 21,000 doses were headed to 112 facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties first, then six facilities in Miami-Dade.

“It wasn’t just COVID that struck the long-term care facilities. It was isolation. It was being disconnected from their friends and families,” said Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director and a Broward native. “This is the beginning to the end of all of that.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the process began to vaccinate 100 senior citizens, referred to as “elders” at John Knox Village.

“We have only had one elder in the entire pandemic come down to the COVID-19 virus and that individual has fully recovered. We are very proud of that,” Rayner said.

Leaders at John Knox Village said 90 percent of their elder residents opted to be vaccinated Wednesday, as well as 80 staff members. They say many of those who declined have underlying conditions preventing them from getting the shot.

“Now that the vaccine is finally here, we need to help people understand the shared risk of receiving the vaccine versus choosing not to,” said John Knox Village COO Bill Pickhardt.

Staff members say members of the National Guard arrived with special coolers containing the vaccine and the Department of Health will return in three weeks for the second phase of shots to complete the vaccination process.

“When you think about the older adults that live in this community, they’ve been through a journey, they’ve been pioneers their entire life,” CEO Gerry Stryker said.

Resident Vera Leie, 88, was among those scheduled to be vaccinated in the afternoon. She is a retired third-grade teacher and a long-time resident of John Knox Village.

A group of skilled nursing residents and healthcare staff from the John Knox Village in Pompano Beach were among those receiving their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

“They are the ones that have looked at the science, understood the facts and they’re pioneers,” Stryker said.

According to a news release from John Knox Village, The Woodlands is the community’s skilled nursing residence, which is the only GREEN HOUSE model of care in the entire state.

THE GREEN HOUSE Project is a national care model where up to 12 elderly people live in a home to help foster empowering relationships between residents and care staff.

“Homes are built around a hearth and a state-of-the-art open kitchen and dining room to promote meaningful interaction with family and friends,” the news release stated. “Staff is rigorously trained in THE GREEN HOUSE philosophy, giving residents four times more human contact than the traditional institutional model.”

“Obviously, they are the most at risk with most infections, but especially for this one, as well,” DeSantis said earlier this week about those living at long-term care facilities.

DeSantis speaks, but doesn’t take questions

The governor’s team seized this opportunity to amplify its success in dealing with the pandemic, despite scrutiny for not amplifying more concerning information — for example, the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s reports that get sent to the state.

On the Florida Department of Health’s Twitter feed, there’s not even a mention of coronavirus since late October, but for recently retweeting the governor.

Leie, one of the residents inoculated Wednesday in Pompano Beach got some help from DeSantis after her vaccination. He wheeled her back to the facility, which doubled as the governor’s smooth exit without taking questions.

Vaccine next steps

The Florida Department of Health is also working with CVS and Walgreens to go on-site and begin the process of inoculating those who need the vaccine the most.

“Having the vaccine come out is like an Independence Day where you’re finally getting your freedom back,” said Charlotte Mather-Taylor, director of the Area Agency on Aging in Broward County.

Mather-Taylor said she’s still concerned about seniors at home, saying they too should be prioritized.

Hospitals also continued vaccinating frontline workers Wednesday, including Baptist Health, which received 550 doses from Jackson Health.

Florida leaders say more vials are to come and more groups will soon be vaccinated.

“We’ll being doing EMS, paramedics, fire — then right behind that we will do folks 65 or older,” Moskowitz said.

The state is already planning for more vaccinations in February and March. The governor says 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have hit the state this week and another 205,000 are expected next week.

DeSantis said 366,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be shipped to Florida, which will be spread across 181 hospitals throughout the state.

Only five hospitals in Florida were able to receive the Pfizer vaccine, but the governor thanked them for sharing their supply with other hospitals so they too could vaccinate some of their frontline workers.

About the Authors:

Saira Anwer joined the Local 10 News team in July 2018. Saira is two-time Emmy-nominated reporter and comes to South Florida from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was working as a reporter and anchor.

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."