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Leon Residents Want To Know: When Will COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expand?

A woman with short hair, dressed in a blue, long sleeve shirt, draws liquid into a syringe from a vial
Steven Cornfield
A woman with short hair, dressed in a blue, long sleeve shirt, draws liquid into a syringe from a vial

Florida is concentrating its efforts on vaccinating healthcare workers and seniors over 65. But little over a month into the largest vaccination effort ever, there’s growing impatience over which groups will be able to get vaccines next.

Leon County is on track to vaccinate nearly 50% of its eligible senior population by this week. So far, about 70% of local healthcare workers have also gotten shots. That places the county near the top when it comes to getting critical groups vaccinated. But a question during a recent webinar on the local response left Leon County’s medical officials reluctant to offer an answer. The question? When can healthy people under 65 get vaccinated?

“If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would tell you you’re looking at summertime where people are going to start seeing vaccinations for the younger population—maybe earlier than that, 90 days, 120 days, but that’s what you’re seeing in the literature right now,” said Dean Watson, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s Chief Integration Officer.

Ultimately, says Leon County Health Officer Claudia Blackburn, it will be up to the governor to decide who goes next. She was responding to a question about vaccinating teachers.

“We really don’t have any visibility into the answer to those questions. We don’t know what the governor is going to choose for the next priority area and its really the governors call as vaccine becomes more available," she said.

Recently, the Leon County School District coordinated an effort to vaccinate teachers who are over 65. People are trying to get vaccines, regardless of the rollout order. And some are searching for ways to jump the line. Recent reporting about some vaccines spoiling before they can be given out, and the overall scarcity of the product—has led some people to stalk providers in the hopes of getting a shot early. Blackburn also responded to a question about what the county does with unused doses.

“There’s not a special sign up for that. We either call people from our waiting list—we may have a shortlist already, or we give it to our partners depending on how long its good for after its been defrosted.”

After early reports about out-of-state vaccine “tourists” getting shots, the state has tightened up on its requirements. Still, Florida residents can be vaccinated pretty much anywhere in state. But now that there’s a statewide vaccination sign-up site, Blackburn notes the place where someone first signs up, is the place they’ll have to return for their second dose.