Virus taking aim on younger, unvaccinated people in Orange County, health data shows

Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

With over 75% of Orange County’s senior population vaccinated against COVID-19, the virus causing the respiratory disease is seeking out younger victims, many of whom have not yet gotten a shot to protect themselves, county leaders said Thursday.

Shares of hospitalizations have plummeted among seniors since late November, when 62% of populations were seniors, while now that number is 28%, Pino said. In the same time frame, younger age groups ticked up, the data shows.

“Now things are flipping,” said Dr. Raul Pino, state health officer in Orange.

He used data, graphs and charts to show how the vaccines, first made available in December to residents of assisted living facilities and other seniors, are shielding them while younger people who may be hesitant or indifferent to inoculation are getting sick.

Pino said 3,251 people age 18 or younger have gotten at least one dose of vaccine out of a population of about 200,000.

“So we have a long way to go with that,” he said.

Youths were not permitted access to the vaccine in Florida until April 5 as the state prioritized nursing home residents, medically vulnerable people, medical personnel and first-responders in the early days of the vaccine.

State health data also shows younger people in the county make up higher percentages of infections from the highly-contagious coronavirus variants — changes in the virus’s genetic code that have fueled surges of COVID-19 cases in other parts of the globe.

State officials also confirmed Thursday they canceled mobile inoculation sites in Central Florida through the weekend because of side effects blamed on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the single-shot serum those vaccination sites planned to use.

“After reviewing current supply, the state does not have enough Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to continue these vaccination events at the same capacity for this week,” said Samantha Bequer, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Emergency Management.

She said authorities were reviewing options to stock mobile sites with Pfizer and Moderna doses, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration don’t recommend lifting the “pause” on Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Bequer said the mobile sites have proved to be a critical tool in Florida’s efforts to reach under-served communities.

Federal and state health officials recommended pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a handful of reports linked it to a rare but serious clotting disorder. Six patients, all women, were hospitalized for the condition after receiving a shot — out of 7.5 million doses injected across the U.S. A Virginia woman, 45, died in March and another was listed in critical condition.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also announced the vaccination appointment portal will open at 9 a.m. Friday to book 17,000 appointments at the drive-thru site at the Orange County Convention Center. Hundreds of appointments will be available for each day April 19 through 24.

For 16- and 17-year-old residents, a parent or legal guardian must register them for their appointment, sign a consent form and be present at time of vaccination.

The appointment portal opened Thursday at 5 p.m. for a mobile site at the Silver Star Recreation Center, 2801 N Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando. Appointments are needed for shots given April 19 -23 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Only walk-ups can get a shot April 24.

The site will use Pfizer-brand vaccines with 1,000 shots available each day.

Orange County Fire Rescue will provide vaccine through an outreach program April 26 in Pine Hills and Holden Heights. Crews will be at the Pine Hills Community Center, 6408 Jennings Road, on April 26. An appointment can be booked by calling 407-254-9107. The crews will move April 27 to the Holden Heights Community Center, 1201 20th St. An appointment can be booked by calling 407-836-6770.

For more information about vaccine efforts in Orange County or to get an appointment, visit ocfl.net/Vaccine.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com