TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Specific details are now emerging on how Florida will handle its first allotment of the COVID-19 vaccine.
It comes a day after a U.S. panel recommended nursing homes and healthcare workers take priority.
As Moderna and Pfizer wait for FDA approval to ship their vaccines, Floridians have started counting the days until they can immunize.
"I'd be willing to take it if it was available," said Tallahassee resident Karimah Horne. "I literally have to wash my hands and use hand sanitizer everywhere I go."
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While they ponder a pandemic-free future, behind the scenes Florida Emergency Management is preparing to distribute millions of doses across the state.
"We went out and bought dry ice machines," said Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. "We got the ultra-cold freezers that we need. We feel that we're in a good position."
Moskowitz told us this week the doses won't come all at once. He said preliminary numbers from Health and Human Services suggest there will be enough for about 250,000 Floridians in the first shipment. The director said HHS officials expect to have the second round of booster shots distributed shortly after.
This initial delivery won't be enough to cover all of the state's 1.3 million health professionals and 145,000 long-term care residents, who will likely be the first recipients. It will take time to get them all inoculated, but Moskowitz pushed for patience.
"The vaccine is going to come. It's going to come in short supply in the beginning," he said. "It's going to ramp up, and it's going to take several months to get out there."
Moskowitz hoped a growing stream of supply would follow in the coming weeks and months. Florida's governor said in a press conference this week the total allotment for the state could be enough for between 1 to 2 million by the end of December.
Moskowitz said his officials are still planning to start distribution at five Florida hospitals and eventually expand operations to look much like state testing sites.
"It may even be the same sites we have now," Moskowitz said. "Giving out the vaccine in a mass distribution -- call it spring, late spring, early summer."
That timetable means most Floridians, especially the less vulnerable, may have to wait well into 2021 for a shot. Until then, experts have said masks need to stay on, and people need to stay distant.
Epidemiologist Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida associate professor, is urging Floridians to keep up protections as the next holiday approaches. With mass vaccination still months away, he recommended limiting travel, keeping gatherings small and preparing now.
"We should ramp up our mitigation strategies," said Salemi. "Ensure that you're negative before you go and hang out with your family, which will almost universally include those in older age groups and at higher risks."
Better protection today may mean a quicker end to COVID-19 tomorrow as the Sunshine State awaits its chance to vaccinate.