TAMPA, Fla. — What was supposed to be a week of first dose COVID-19 shots has left some staff and residents in Florida long-term care centers shot-less, disappointed and angry.
At Gulf Coast Village Senior Center in Cape Coral, staff members who held off on getting their first dose during the facility's initial vaccination clinic were ready to pull up their sleeves during the center's second clinic scheduled for last week.
But a day before the scheduled appointments, Associate Executive Director Greg Anderson got a last-minute call from his Walgreens liaison.
"He was very sorry to report that they didn't have enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wanted their first dose of at the clinic," Anderson said.
Anderson scrambled to relay the message to 81 of his staff members relying on getting the vaccine that day.
"There were definitely some people who were frustrated. Those people counted on it because we were advertising and telling them if they chose to get their first dose at the second clinic, it would be available for them as an option," Anderson told us recently.
It turns out his center wasn't the only one to get the bad news.
This week, we've discovered the Walgreens vaccine shortage impacted an unknown number of long-term care facilities across the state.
According to a spokesperson with Walgreens, the problem started Jan. 5 when Florida canceled just over 76,000 doses that were originally allocated to Walgreens for long-term care facilities. Those doses were transferred to another provider, the spokesperson told us in an email.
In that statement emailed to us on Monday, the spokesperson added, "given these limits to our supply, at the direction of the Florida Department of Health, beginning Feb. 8, Walgreens will be providing only second doses at all remaining scheduled clinics for long-term care facilities."
In other words, anyone scheduled for their first dose during a second Walgreens clinic would be turned away at the last minute.
"I think staff are now left wondering is it going to be six months before I get a vaccine, is it going to be three months, is it going to be two weeks?" Anderson asked.
It's a hiccup that Anderson said he's heard is now fixed.
Sandi Poreda, the spokeswoman for the Florida Senior Living Association, is also under the impression the shortage is fixed.
"I can't say it's been a smooth process, but I can say it's moving forward, and I can say that seniors are getting those vaccines and staff are getting those vaccines," Poreda said.
But neither Florida's Health Department nor its Emergency Management Department have responded to our repeated requests for answers or have provided confirmation that the mishap is taken care of.
Walgreens has also not provided an update on where the canceled clinics and reallocated doses stand. As a result, we don't know how many facilities are impacted, if it's officially fixed and why and to whom the state diverted 76,000 COVID 19 vaccines too.
It's a blunder in a vaccine rollout plan that has had its fair share of problems.
"It's been like a hurricane," said Poreda about the process. "We've seen the best of situations, and we've seen situations that can use improvements," she said. "I don’t know anyone who gets it right the first time."
Also, still up in the air is when additional vaccinations will be offered in long-term care facilities. The state and the federal government had committed to offering three clinics in long-term care centers. By the end of March, all long-term care facilities will be closing in on their third clinics.
However, with new residents arriving, high staff turnover, and the majority of long-term care staff choosing against the initial round of shots, centers are concerned without additional clinics, facilities will be prone to virus spread.
In an email to us earlier this week, a spokesperson from Florida's Department of Health said, "the long-term care clinics is not ending. It remains critical that the state continues to provide vaccine to long-term care staff and residents to ensure the most vulnerable to COVID-19 have access to the vaccine as quickly as possible."
Those in the industry tell us they hadn't heard about additional clinics until we told them. While they call it great news, those like Anderson are waiting for confirmation from the state and details on when. He also didn't know his facility was short-changed vaccines because the state reallocated 76,000 doses of the vaccine away from Walgreens. He understands that there is only so much supply to go around in a state that has made seniors a priority.
"I think it was a difficult decision to make, and I'm glad I wasn't the one to have to make it, but at the same time, we have 81 people who are waiting for their vaccine and possibly more and it may be months before they can get it now," Anderson said.
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