Tampa Bay Times
CITRUS PARK — Patricia Landry smiled nervously as she opened her front door Friday morning, and the paramedic trotted in with a little blue lunchbox cooler. She knew what was inside and had been trying to get one for months.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” the 76-year-old told paramedic John Mikula as he handed her the paperwork she’d need to fill out to get her coronavirus vaccine. “I guess I was nervous about the shot.”
“Oh no, it will be just fine,” Mikula assured her as he prepared to vaccinate Landry at her breakfast table, while bookshelves of British royalty books and a miniature Queen Elizabeth looked on. “And I’ll be back in a few weeks to give you another.”
The shot, delivered as part of the state’s homebound vaccination program, was “a blessing” for Landry, she said. She rarely drives, and hadn’t had luck finding one through any of Hillsborough County’s other vaccination programs, she said.
“I figured it would be May before I got one,” she told Mikula. ”I’m relieved. I needed the COVID virus like I need another hole in the head.”
Florida rolled out a pilot program to vaccinate homebound residents in February — starting with 1,500 doses.
As of Thursday, the program had administered more than 5,200 doses, according to Samantha Bequer, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The state has received 7,992 emails from interested people and has started scheduling 6,122 of them.
Strike teams of state workers, local fire-rescue workers and paramedics are administering the vaccines in peoples’ homes. Emergency Management has worked with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and the Area Agencies on Aging to identify seniors for the program and has added door-to-door canvassing to locate others, Bequer said.
“Senior Connection Center is extremely pleased that there is a focus on vaccine distribution to Florida’s homebound elders,” said Charlotte McHenry, president and CEO of Senior Connection Center said in a statement. “This focus ensures that this vulnerable population is not forgotten, and their health is a priority.”
The Tampa-based team is one of four, with others in Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. The four-person Tampa team administers shots three or four days a week, giving 20 to 70 doses a day, said Mikula, who is the community paramedic manager for TransCare. Members head out at 8 a.m., each driving a van carrying chilled vaccine doses. They arrive back at One Crisis Center Plaza about 2 or 3 p.m., after serving clients from Plant City and Wimauma to South Tampa.
Hillsborough County has about 5,500 homebound people, said emergency management coordinator Jay Rajyaguru. So far, the program has administered doses to about 500.
The team began giving shots on Feb. 22, and the list of eligible homebound residents grows as the age restriction drops, he said. Often, caregivers of recipients get shots at the same time.
Some recipients are ambivalent about getting the shots. Sometimes family members have expressed their disapproval, or the homebound resident decides to cancel, he said.
But often, they are excited, said Courtney Rieke, one of the team paramedics.
“Sometimes people cry,” the 24-year-old said. She gave a shot to one older woman who kissed her hand, she said, because she was so grateful for the vaccine.
Later on Friday morning, Mikula arrived at the home of Robert and Nora Morris. Nora Morris, 78, got her first dose at the Publix grocery down the street, but hadn’t been able to get one for her husband, who cannot ride in a car.
“We’ve been trying since January to get a shot for him” she told Mikula, and had called or written everyone she could think of — the state, the county, the governor. Finally, she called the Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management, who scheduled the shot.
“I’m trying to make sure he stays safe,” she said, “because if he got it, he probably wouldn’t survive it.”
Robert Morris, 73, was willing to get the vaccine, but said he doesn’t fear the coronavirus.
“I feel it’s safe,” he said of the vaccine. “I don’t feel it’s necessary.”
“I’m happy for my wife,” he added.
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