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SWFL hopes to control pandemic by continuing the vaccine rollout

In the new year, as the vaccine rollout continues in Southwest Florida, health officials are hoping this will be a big step in controlling the pandemic.

Waves of emotion swept across SWFL a vaccines became available to those 65 and older and high-risk frontline health care workers.

Ellen and Bob Iverson say they were relieved. “It was just a big relief and we started feeling emotional just as the like started moving closer and closer,” said the Iversons.

Bob and Ellen Iverson are some of the lucky ones who were first to get vaccine doses in Lee County.

“Knowing that you’re going to survive it because we’ve been able to get the vaccine so just an unbelievable feeling,” said Bob.

Sandra Snyder says she’s been wanting to see her kids. “”We’re all concerned and we all want to see our kids and our grandkids,” said Snyder.

But now that she’s gotten the vaccine. “Didn’t feel a thing. I think the flu shot is worse than that,” Snyder said.

After about two weeks of vaccinations, nearly 12,000 doses have been administered.  But, that feeling of relief is shared by less than one percent of Southwest Floridians and falls short of what’s needed for herd immunity.

Dr. Stephen Kissler works with the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Kissler says vaccine prioritization is key. “It really does seem to make a lot of sense to prioritize vaccines to those who are at highest risk of severe complications of the illness. So that clearly puts older people high on the list of people who you want to vaccinate,” he said.

“If the virus has a reproduction number of about three, so that infectious person is likely to infect three others,” said Dr. Kissler. “Then, that means that you need essentially two-thirds of the population to be fully protected.”

“The goal is to have even the least vaccinated communities to still have that high level of population immunity, which requires a really, really large amount of people to be vaccinated,” Dr. Kissler said.

There’s so much uncertainty surrounding how many more vaccine doses SWFL receive and when. Roger Desjarlais is the Lee County Manager. “The dates and times for additional vaccines…they’ll be coming from the state,” said Desjarlais.

Health officials and leaders  say we need to stay focused. Dr. Larry Antonucci is the President and CEO of Lee Health.

“The coronavirus is still spreading, and hospitalizations and deaths are still rising. People’s lives are at stake, and just because the vaccine brings hope does not mean we can let up now,” said Dr. Antonucci.

Eyes are also on Governor DeSantis and his team to keep us moving forward. “In the state of Florida, it’s a little bit unique because we recognize that the governor has really taken a front and center approach as to how the vaccination strategy is being rolled out,” said Dr. Oscar Alleyne.

In the state of Florida more than 211,000 thousand people have received their first dose of the vaccine, which again is less than one percent of the population.

Kristine Hollingsworth with the Florida Department of Health in Collier County says they will continuously be receiving the vaccine.

“We will be continuously receiving vaccine throughout the vaccine roll out. So this is not the only supply that we have,” said Hollingsworth.


COVID-19 VARIANT

Florida became the third state in the U.S. to have  confirmed case of the COVID-19 variant strain that first appeared in the UK. Many are saying that this new strain is more contagious.

Colorado, California and now, Florida have all seen cases of the new coronavirus strain. “Health officials in the United Kingdom and South Africa recently reported two new variants of SARS,” said a CDC official.

The Florida Department of Health says a Martin County man in his 20s contracted the COVID-19 variant.

“The virus is a little bit more difficult to keep control of. And so it essentially means that, that more effort is going to be needed to, in essence, flatten this curve,” said Dr. Kissler.

Flattening the curve and controlling the spread are still of upmost concern.

Health experts still believe in the current vaccine and its abilities but, federal officials acknowledge that the vaccine rollout process needs to improve.

General Gustave Perna is the COO of Operation warp Speed. “Here’s what I have confidence in. Every day everybody gets better,” said Perna.

While the promise of more vaccines coming next week has given hope to many, there are still questions about improving distribution, avoiding lines and now the CDC is working to battle virus mutations.

“Because the variants spread more rapidly, they could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our heavily burdened healthcare systems,” the CDC said.

None of the people who have contracted the COVID-19 variant have traveled.

The CDC has labs across the county screening more COVID-19 tests to identify and track mutations.

Medical experts do believe that the vaccine is effective against the new strain.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Drew Hill
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