coronavirus vaccine

Covid Vaccinations Begin for Florida Nursing Home Staff and Residents

The first dose of the new Pfizer vaccine was being administered to 56 residents and 46 healthcare staff at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach

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What to Know

  • Florida began COVID-19 vaccinations at long-term care facilities Wednesday
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state has 21,450 doses of the vaccine that are going to long-term care facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties
  • He said the state has also partnered with six nursing homes in Miami-Dade to do vaccinations

Staff and residents of a South Florida nursing home were among the first in the state to be receiving the new COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday.

The first dose of the new Pfizer vaccine was being administered to 56 residents and 46 healthcare staff at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the center Wednesday afternoon and witnessed a resident receiving the vaccine during a news conference. He said he believes Florida is the first state to administer vaccines in long-term care facilities.

"I think people should feel really optimistic about how this has gone," DeSantis said. "This is one of the biggest logistics operations the country has ever had. It's gone really well initially."

The resident, 88-year-old Vera Leip, who taught elementary school in Ferguson, Missouri, for 40 years, said she was excited to get her shot.

“I hope it will help me from getting COVID,” she said. “I don’t know if it (the vaccines) will help or not. I hope they do. … I don’t know anything about it (the disease), but I would prefer not to have it.”

She said even with the pandemic, she has been able to visit with her two daughters, her son and three grandchildren. They meet in designated areas or outdoors and she has given them hugs.

“I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I did,” she laughed.

Vera Liep was one of the first residents at a Florida long-term care facility to get the COVID vaccine -- and her family sees that as a sign of hope. NBC 6's Alyssa Hyman reports

The whole country was watching a Leip got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, including Vera’s daughter Leslie. 

“I watched it on every channel,” said Leslie Leip. “We were very excited about it.” She called her mother “so brave.”

Leslie said she spoke to her mother several times Wednesday after she got the vaccine. 

“She’s just doing great. I talked to her a couple of times today to say she's a star and a VIP in the real sense of the word," she said. "She's very excited. And she feels fine by the way. She feels fine.”

For the Leip family, the vaccine opens up so many possibilities for the future. 

“All though we get to see her all the time, it’s full garb, masks, coverings, shield," she said.

Leslie says she looking forward to the moment she can take her mother out to dinner. “She hasn’t been out of [John Knox Village] for months.”

She also looks forward to sometime in the future when they can have another family reunion like they did last year. 

“She has several great-grandchildren and many grandchildren, and she would just love to hold them in her arms again," she said.

A spokesperson for John Knox Village said the vaccine will be made available to all residents and staff who want it.

DeSantis said the top priority is to use early shipments of the vaccines to protect health care workers, who have been on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic, along with residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

"Very, very significant that we provide vaccinations to anyone in a nursing home who wants it," DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday. "Obviously they are most at risk for most infections, but certainly from this one as well."

DeSantis said the state has 21,450 doses of the vaccine that are going to long-term care facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties. He said the state has also partnered with six nursing homes in Miami-Dade to do vaccinations.

CVS and Walgreens pharmacies in the state will also be receiving an initial 60,000 doses to distribute at long-term care facilities. DeSantis said those may not begin until Monday, but the state wanted to get a jump on vaccinations at those locations.

"We were not happy with allowing that wait, we really believe that time is of the essence," DeSantis said. "We're not waiting, we cannot just wait until Monday."

DeSantis has focused much of his pandemic messaging around protecting nursing homes. Previously, the state had imposed early restrictions on visitations and barred the return from hospitals of virus-positive patients unless those facilities had COVID-19 wards. With Florida’s high percentage of retirees and large number of nursing homes, the toll on the elderly was an acute concern early in the pandemic.

"It's just not going to be the same until we get the vaccinations in those facilities," DeSantis said. "We've got thousands of facilities in Florida - it's not as easy as it would be in some smaller state - when you're talking about between staff and residents, these are hundreds of thousands of vaccinations that need to take place, but it is a priority."

Florida has the second-highest nursing home population in the country behind California.

DeSantis said the state is awaiting additional shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, and could start receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine in the next week once it gets emergency use authorization from the FDA.

NBC 6 and AP
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