You’ve probably heard a lot about the early rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Let me share some highlights of the work happening right here in Pinellas County.

As of Jan. 20, more than 50,000 people had received at least their first dose of the two that are required for the vaccines approved by the FDA. That includes many frontline health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. The importance of that cannot be overstated. Health care workers with direct patient care face greater risk of contracting the virus, and long-term care residents are more likely to get seriously ill or die if they catch it.

Through the Florida Department of Health (DOH), and per state prioritization guidelines, seniors ages 65 and older are receiving vaccines locally. In mid-January, the DOH office in Pinellas County, in partnership with the state and County, opened vaccination sites in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Largo and Palm Harbor. First responders from 18 fire departments throughout the county helped administer 10,000 vaccines in the first round, and will likely have delivered thousands more by the time you read this. If you have not yet been vaccinated or scheduled an appointment, go to https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/vaccines to see what options are available.

As you have probably heard, vaccine supplies are very limited at this point, and appointments are filling up quickly. Please be patient. We will work with our local DOH officials to keep everyone notified as new shipments arrive from the state. Our health care officials tell us that most seniors in Pinellas County who want the vaccine will have an easier time getting an appointment in the spring. In the coming weeks, we’ll likely see increased availability through state-run sites, pharmacies, Publix and various agencies. Even so, please keep in mind that it will take a while for the state to receive and distribute vaccines for everyone.

Many people want to know when vaccines will be made available to other groups like people with health conditions under the age of 65. We are currently in Phase I of the state plan, and the state will determine when the next phase begins and who will be eligible. Pinellas County will continue to support DOH Pinellas, and local community partners as they receive and distribute the vaccines.

We’re also working to make the vaccine is equally available to traditionally underserved communities. In addition to choosing vaccination sites across the county (in Palm Harbor, Pinellas Park, Largo, and south St. Petersburg), DOH Pinellas partnered with the state recently to provide more than 500 vaccines to members of a local church in south St. Petersburg recently. Gov. DeSantis has encouraged local communities to partner with churches to increase the availability of the vaccine, and those efforts will continue.

The vaccine will help us eventually return to our normal lives, but it’s going to take a while. Even if you’ve had the vaccine, you should still practice social distancing, avoid crowded places and wear a mask inside public places. Experts are still researching just how much protection the vaccine provides against infecting others. And if you haven’t had the vaccine, please continue to protect yourself, your family, your friends and your neighbors.

As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.