One of the biggest hurdles in nationwide COVID-19 vaccine distribution so far has been getting shots to homebound seniors.
On that front, Alachua County firefighters are working to fill the gaps with a new operation called the “Community Health Team.”
The initiative launched on Jan. 19 and entails the Alachua County Fire Rescue working with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to deliver vaccinations to elderly people in their homes.
Through the program, 30 people have been fully vaccinated with two doses, 121 people have received the first dose, 27 people are scheduled to receive the second dose, and 20 people are scheduled to receive the first dose.
Elderly residents can receive a vaccine through the Community Health Team if they are referred to the fire rescues by the local health department.
Vaccine referrals are issued when individuals register with the health department, or they call the health department and say they are eligible, said Paul Myers, the Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.
“What we’re doing is taking those who are the oldest down to age 65 right now,” he said. “We are either texting, emailing or calling them. Once that contact is made, if they tell us they’re homebound or have other transportation issues, then, those cases are referred over to the fire rescue departments.”
If identified individuals live in the city of Gainesville, the health department refers them to Gainesville Fire Rescue. If they live in unincorporated parts of the county, they are referred to Alachua County Fire Rescue.
After the referrals are made, the health department sends the vaccinations and the recipients’ contact information to the fire rescues.
“We provide the vaccine; they provide the manpower and the vehicles to get there,” Myers said. “They also sit with the individual and watch them for a 15-minute observation period.”
County Fire Rescue Lieutenant Sarah Weed is one of two medics who are providing said power.
“We go out into the community, develop relationships and help people who can’t really help themselves,” she said.
Weed said they can vaccinate up to 11 people in one day.
“We receive the vials, which have 10 doses,” she said. “We can do up to 11 vaccinations a day with one vial, but we typically do about 10 vaccinations per day.”
In addition to administering vaccinations, Weed said she has a “soft spot” for elderly people and likes to “help around the house” during the 15-minute post-vaccination observation period.
“I’ll walk around the house and make sure everything looks good and safe while we wait for the patient to not have a reaction to the vaccine,” she said. “Many individuals are prone to falling, so I also clean up any tripping hazards.”
Weed and her medic colleague, Sarah Powell, follow up with individuals 28 days after they receive the first dose to provide the second dose.
Weed said there were challenges with scheduling and letting the public know about the program when it first started, but it has since gained popularity and has resulted in over 150 registered people.
Myers said there is no set goal for the number of vaccinations the program aims to administer, but it will continue until there is no longer a need for it.
“People have been really grateful,” Weed said. “I’m just really excited to help them get their lives back.”
Anyone interested in scheduling a vaccination appointment should contact the Health Department at 352-335-8810