BOCA RATON, Fla. — One of Palm Beach County's top officials says we're turning the corner in the COVID-19 pandemic now that all Floridians ages 18 and older will soon be eligible to receive the vaccine.
"If we can give access to this vaccine to more people, I think it's gonna be a way for us to get this pandemic behind us," Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth told WPTV on Thursday.
INTERVIEW WITH VICE MAYOR:
Just hours earlier, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that all Floridians 18 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 5. In addition, all state residents 40 and older can get inoculated starting on March 29.
"We're ready to take this step," DeSantis said. "We want to keep up that momentum as we expand eligibility to other age groups throughout the state of Florida."
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Weinroth said that while the news is encouraging, Palm Beach County needs to ensure that residents have better access to vaccine appointment portals.
"I know we still have a lot of our seniors, they're very frustrated. They haven't been able to get appointments," Weinroth said. "We're doing a great job with the 80% that are able to get on a computer, get in their car, and get to a vaccine distribution point. The problem is there are people who are shut-ins. There are people who don't have access to a computer."
Palm Beach County residents are encouraged to register for a vaccine appointment through the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, which is operating COVID-19 vaccination sites at the South Florida Fairgrounds, South County Civic Center, and Burns Road Community Center.
Residents who can't leave their homes to get vaccinated are urged to send an email to HomeboundVaccine@em.myflorida.com to request an appointment.
Vaccines are also available at Publix, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Sam's Club, and Winn-Dixie pharmacies, as well as federally-operated sites in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville.
Weinroth said the ultimate goal is to eventually have commercial entities like Publix and CVS take over the vaccine distribution entirely, similar to how flu shots work.
"I think we're gonna get to a point where this is gonna be so widely available that everybody's gonna be able to get it. The people who want it will be able to get vaccinated," Weinroth said. "I think the federal government is making a concerted effort to get more and more vaccine to us."
Palm Beach County Health Dept. says process for requesting a vaccine appointment will not change come April 5th, "just now almost our entire population will be competing for the limited supply. At this time there is no change in the amount of vaccine we expect to receive." @WPTV— Michelle Quesada (@M_Quesada) March 25, 2021
Alex Shaw, the director of communications for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, said there is "no current timeline" for when county agencies may step away from vaccine operations and let pharmacies take over.
In a written statement to WPTV, Shaw said:
"Any changes locally would be determined by an increase in vaccine supply distribution. The process for requesting a vaccine appointment does not change, just now almost our entire population will be competing for the limited supply. At this time there not been a change in the amount of vaccine we expect to receive."
DeSantis' announcement on Thursday came just days after Palm Beach County leaders debated lowering the age of eligibility to 40 and older, similar to how Miami-Dade and Orange counties have.
Until now, those counties appeared to be in violation of DeSantis' executive order which said Floridians 50 and older can get the vaccine.
Ultimately, Mayor Dave Kerner advised commissioners against lowering the age themselves, saying other counties are receiving federal doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, whereas Palm Beach County is only receiving a state supply.
"There's a little bit more flexibility in those very urban areas," Kerner said on Tuesday. "I don't think these other counties are violating [DeSantis' executive order] in that they're probably using federal vaccines that have a little bit more durability or broader boundaries of how they can use them."
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According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 391,508 people have received at least one dose the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County, which ranks third in the state behind neighboring Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"People still need to be careful. People still need to use face coverings if they can't be six feet apart," Weinroth said. "And we need to just take another little bit of time to get ourselves back to a point where everybody can get back to our normal again."