Specially trained firefighters and paramedics have begun inoculating vulnerable residents of senior communities in Orange County who otherwise might not be able to arrange visits to COVID-19 vaccination sites to protect themselves from the deadly virus.
“If they can’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” Public Safety Director Danny Banks said.
Many of those targeted for the vaccine don’t drive and have had trouble navigating the Internet to set an appointment at the state’s drive-through vaccination site located at the Orange County Convention Center in the International Drive tourist corridor.
“Some don’t drive, shouldn’t be driving and don’t really have anyone to drive them,” Banks said
The county initiative — supported by the Florida Department of Health, which is supplying both the vaccines and training — will ramp up over the next few weeks with help from first-responders from Orlando, Apopka, Winter Park and other municipal fire agencies.
“Theoretically, using this strategy, we could soon get to a point where we’re doing an additional 1,000 people a day just through these mobile teams,” Banks said. “But our success ultimately will be driven by whatever our access to the vaccine is.”
Firefighters have gone door-to-door in several 55+ communities this week to make residents aware of the opportunity.
“For the most part, people are very grateful,” said Ashley Gipson, spokeswoman for Orange County Fire Rescue. “A lot of people in these communities are unable to physically go to the convention center or somewhere else where vaccines are being offered. Some of them have expressed difficulties with [managing] the technology to schedule appointments at the locations.”
About 70 Orange County firefighter/paramedics have been trained to administer vaccines.
Health Department spokesman Kent Donahue said Gissella Suarez, a FDOH nurse and consultant in Orange County, has trained over 190 firefighters to give vaccinations, including first-responders from Apopka, Winter Park and other Orange cities.
The teams visit senior communities usually days in advance of vaccinations to answer questions and prepare residents.
They expect Friday to give shots to about 300 residents of Gulfstream Harbor, a mobile home park on Old Goldenrod Rd.
Firefighter teams accompanied Health Department staff who provided vaccinations this week at Crescent Club Apartments.
Lisa Lopez, property manager at the 215-unit apartment community on Rio Grande, estimated 60 people got a shot.
“Way more than I thought would,” she said. “It went great.”
Lopez said some residents had been asking how they could get a vaccine for the virus blamed for 800 deaths in the county.
Banks said the initiative puts the county in a good competitive position when more vaccine becomes available.
“We’ll have a system in place that’s been proven to work,” he said.
According to state data through 12:05 a.m. Wednesday, about 650,000 Florida residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Most will need a second dose for full immunity. The data showed Orange County has given at least one dose of vaccine to 37,948 people.
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