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Winter Weather Delaying Some Vaccine Shipments To Florida

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
David J. Phillip/AP
The Florida Channel
A truck drives past a highway sign Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.

The delays may force some counties and pharmacies to reschedule appointments, and it's delaying others from booking future vaccinations.

A shipment to Florida of more than 200,000 doses of Moderna vaccine has been delayed due to a storm that has battered parts of the country, and the state’s top emergency management official doesn’t know when the coveted COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive.

“This delay could go on for several more days, we don’t have an answer on when it’s going to arrive,” Division of Emergency Management Director Jarod Moskowitz told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday afternoon.

In all, 208,000 first and second doses of Moderna vaccine have been delayed.

A Pfizer vaccine delivery has not been affected by the arctic blast that has caused widespread power outages in states such as Texas. Moskowitz said 132,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered this week as planned.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has partnered with Publix supermarkets across the state to help vaccinate residents. Publix uses an online tool to book appointments for vaccinations. The supermarket issued a statement Tuesday, saying it won’t accept new appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Wednesday.

“We know how important administering this vaccine is, so we deeply regret the need to cancel Wednesday’s scheduling event. Once additional vaccine is received, we will announce the next opportunity for vaccine appointment scheduling,” Publix Director of Communications Maria Brous said in a prepared statement. The supermarket said already-scheduled appointments for Wednesday and Thursday will continue as planned but made no commitment beyond that.

Moskowitz acknowledged that some other already-scheduled vaccination appointments would be canceled as a result of the shipment delay. He said the state is reviewing the vaccine supplies of all hospitals, pharmacies and state sites that have been receiving the Moderna vaccine to determine the amount of available doses and when the facilities will run out.

“Any state site or pharmacy or hospital that uses Moderna is potentially affected by this,” Moskowitz said, adding “there are going to be appointments that are going to be rescheduled.”

People whose appointments are canceled because of the delivery delay will be given priority when the vaccine doses arrive, Moskowitz said.

“I don’t want someone to feel they are going to lose their place in line and get rescheduled to the back of the line,” he said. “That’s not what our plan is. Our plan is as soon as the shipments arrive, we will go to the people who have appointments first.”

More than 2.43 million people in Florida have received COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the latest state numbers. DeSantis has made a top priority of vaccinating people over age 65, health care workers and patients that hospitals deem high risk.

Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties lead the state in the number of people vaccinated, with each topping 200,000.

While Moskowitz said he wasn’t clear when the Moderna doses would arrive, a top health care regulator earlier Tuesday told hospitals to expect the vaccine to be delivered on Thursday.

But Moskowitz said a vaccine tracking system “does not show that.”

“So we’ve been told the hospitals will receive it on Thursday, but I want to see the updated tracking information to see the packages moving,” Moskowitz said.

Polk County is waiting on 7,000 first-dose vaccines and 5,500 second-dose vaccines in an upcoming shipment.

Health officials are instructing individuals who registered through Polk's vaccine portal and scheduled appointments this week to monitor their phones or email in case their vaccine must be rescheduled.

Those with affected appointments will be contacted by the health department or one of the area health systems partnering on vaccinations and if they don’t hear from anyone they should plan to arrive at their appointment as planned.

"These delays are unfortunate but unavoidable," said Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County. "We ask for patience from those who are currently scheduled and those waiting to be scheduled as we work expeditiously to reschedule and rearrange appointments."

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties said they have ample vaccine supply to carry out existing appointments.

“In Pinellas what we do is we work a week ahead of time, so the appointments that we have that are made have vaccines that are accounted for,” said Maggie Hall, spokesperson for the health department in Pinellas.

Hall said the Florida Division of Emergency Management notified all county health departments that severe weather could affect deliveries. She said if future shipments are delayed the county will hold off scheduling new appointments and notify the public.

Sarasota health officials had a similar message on Tuesday.

“We do have vaccines for every appointment that we have scheduled, so if you received a vaccine appointment for today or tomorrow please be sure to come receive that vaccine,” said Steve Huard, spokesperson for the health department in Sarasota.

The county also announced it has supplies for 1,000 second dose vaccines for a clinic on Thursday at Sarasota Square Mall and would be notifying eligible individuals. It urged those ready for a second dose who don't receive a notification not to go to the mall.

Palm Beach County officials said second doses won't be affected, but the county said it won’t be able to administer first shots of the vaccine until shipments resume.

Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted this afternoon that the division of emergency management and health department “are providing regular updates to our partners to ensure the vaccine is distributed as efficiently as possible as it arrives.”

Stephanie Colombini is a reporter for Health News Florida. Christine Sexton is a reporter for News Service of Florida.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.
Christine Sexton