With vaccine demand low, Orange County ponders more local locations

Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

Health officials have more vaccines available than appointments booked at the Orange County Convention Center, a signal that it may be time to alter local strategies to bring shots closer to people, a health official said Thursday.

The county, which opened appointments last Friday for this week, still has open appointments for Friday and Saturday, when in weeks prior, all appointments were scooped up in minutes.

Dr. Raul Pino, the local state health officer, said the county hasn’t opened up appointments for next week yet, as it’s considering taking its clinic on the road to get within walking distance of people who either can’t, or don’t want to, travel to the convention center.

“We may look for a solution where we have multiple smaller sites around the county,” he said. “We now have to get closer to our community.”

Vaccine demand has dipped in recent weeks: Perhaps a sign of hesitancy or distrust of shots and that officials may have reached much of the group of people eager for protection from the virus.

So far more than 34% of county residents are vaccinated, though Pino said the number is likely more like 40% because the state doesn’t include data from the veteran’s affairs hospitals.

In the race toward herd immunity, he said the county needs to reach younger age groups. Only about 200 people between 16 and 18 years old were inoculated Wednesday, Pino said.

“We’re at the tipping point,” Pino said of the effort. When the county reaches about 50% of its population protected, measures surrounding facial coverings, social distancing and occupancy could be loosened.

Younger people are also being hospitalized with the virus at higher rates. The median age of hospitalized people was 76 to begin the year and has dipped to 65, he said.

“Although young people do not have the poor outcomes that we experience with older populations, there is still risk,” he said. “We want to prevent this from happening and the way…is to get the younger segment of the population vaccinated.”

Vaccine demand has plummeted in recent weeks. On Wednesday, about 84,000 doses were administered statewide, down from about 201,000 issued the previous Wednesday.

Appointments at the convention center are available at ocfl.net/vaccine.

Rental assistance program launching soon in Orlando

In Orlando, the city council is expected to vote next week on a contract with KPMG to help run its rental assistance program.

The city has about $7.8 million federal dollars available for rental relief through the U.S. Treasury Department, with 65% of it needing to be spent by Sept. 30.

To qualify, a renter needs a household income at or below 80% of the area median income – which is about $60,000 for a family of four, Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

A renter also must show evidence that rent is owed and of a COVID-19 related hardship.

The maximum assistance is $4,000, and cannot include utility payments unless it’s a part of the lease, according to an agenda item.

A portal for applications is expected to open next month, he said.

rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com