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Florida Department of Health discusses struggles with vaccine rollout

The Department of health is normally an invisible, behind-the-scenes organization. But, since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process began in Florida, that state and each individual county’s Department of Health has been thrust into the spotlight.

Lately, though, FDOH has been facing a considerable amount of criticism for the challenges people are facing to get the vaccine. However, experts tell WINK News that the blame goes beyond them.

Dr. Joseph Pepe is the FDOH Officer for Charlotte County. “We were looking somewhere around 75 to 100 an hour, and now we’re doing three to 400 per hour. So we’ve definitely improved our process dramatically,” said Pepe.

But it seems that for almost every success, local health departments are facing a different challenge.

“A lot of healthcare workers are tired. I’ve seen a lot of really tough stuff over the last year and a half,” Dr. Pepe said.

One part of the problem is that health departments have to do more with less. A study says that spending for local health departments has dropped 18% since 2010.

Also, they’ve lost at least 38,000 public health jobs since 2008.

Dr. Chris Beyrer works with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says that this lack of resources is now impacting us all.

“The rollout of these two very efficacious products has been halting and slow and challenging. And it has been too slow to have these vaccines, at least up until now, have an impact on protecting the American people,” said Dr. Beyrer.

Even the emergency funding hit a dangerous delay.

“The CDC is ultimately the agency that is tasked with managing these distribution programs and the funding for them was going to be in the second recovery act, which was long-delayed,” Dr. Beyrer said.

Dr. Howard Koh is with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s not clear that coordination at the highest level has occurred yet. And it’s got to improve if we’re going to get to the targets of some 85 percent of the population vaccinated and achieving herd immunity,” said Dr. Koh.

So while everyone waits for Washington DC to do something, local health departments are leaning on the one resource they can count on.

“We’ve had lots of folks come out, and really have been amazing, and they’re just so happy to be able to finally support and serve and help others. And that’s made all the difference in the world in our vaccine group one as well,” Dr. Pepe.

The reshuffling of local resources to combat the pandemic has drawn them away from other health department efforts. For example, tackling historically high STI rates the opioid crisis and other infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Drew Hill
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