Walton County health officials make plans to deliver COVID vaccine to homebound residents

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County health officials, along with some community partners, are working to identify residents who are confined to their homes, so that the COVID-19 vaccine can be delivered and administered to them.

The county remains in the early stages of that effort, Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg said Monday. At this point, he said, the county does not have an accurate picture of the number of truly homebound people residing in the county.

More:COVID-19 vaccine tracker: See how many people in Florida have been vaccinated, by county, state

But whenever those people are identified, the vaccine will be administered to them under the terms of the priority list being set by the state. Before Monday, vaccine administration had been limited to people 65 years of age and older, long-term care facility residents and staff and health care personnel with direct patient contact.

More:Walton County continues preparations for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

But in an executive order signed on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis added K-12 teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters age 50 and older to the list of people now eligible for vaccination.

In their effort to get vaccines to the homebound, Walton County officials are faced with the task of defining exactly what qualifies a person for that status, Goldberg explained. As an example, he noted that someone claiming to be homebound, but who has a neighbor who takes them to get groceries, also should be able to find transportation to a vaccination site.

In an effort to establish the number of homebound residents of the county, officials are reaching out to suppliers of durable medical equipment — wheelchairs, hospital beds, traction equipment, ventilators, monitors and similar items — as well as to home health care agencies and hospice care providers, Goldberg said.

More:Walton County begins COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors

Beyond identifying the county's truly homebound residents, there are logistical issues to be worked out in connection with getting the vaccine to them, Goldberg said. To address how the vaccines will be delivered to the homebound, Goldberg will be meeting Tuesday with personnel from the county's various fire protection districts to start addressing questions regarding vaccine delivery to the homebound.

Among the issues that must be factored into vaccine delivery is the shelf life of the various COVID-19 vaccines, Goldberg said, along with their refrigeration requirements.

Currently, the county is receiving only the Moderna vaccine, which can remain stable  in storage from 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days, but can be kept at room temperature for only 12 hours.

The Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at much colder temperatures, could present more significant challenges, but Goldberg said Monday that the county was expecting delivery Tuesday of two ultra-cold freezers capable of properly storing that vaccine.

Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg, left, and Patti Roberts, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, speak with the media in January as the county's COVID-19 vaccinations got under way. The county is now trying to identify homebound residents for whom to deliver the vaccine.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses administered a few weeks apart, but Goldberg said Monday that Walton County officials will be among the people on a conference call Tuesday with Johnson & Johnson, a U.S.-based pharmaceutical company that has developed a vaccine that requires just a single dose, and can be stored for up to three months at 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

The state is expecting to receive 175,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, according to media reports. It's not clear how many of those doses might make their way to Walton County as the state makes decisions on its distribution.

As part of considering vaccine storage and shelf life requirements in connection with getting vaccine doses to the homebound, county officials will need to develop the most efficient routes for getting those doses to homebound individuals, to ensure that no vaccine is wasted, Goldberg noted Monday.

"We're not anticipating large numbers" of homebound individuals across the county, Goldberg said, adding that even when qualified homebound individuals are identified, not all of them might want the vaccine.

Making Goldberg's point about the sprawling county at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, Florida Department of Health in Walton County health officer and administrator Holly Holt told commission members, "You can't just go from Paxton down to Santa Rosa Beach (with the vaccine) ... so we've really got to work some logistics out with this as we move forward."

Vaccine distribution to the homebound, while it will follow the state's priority list, will be handled outside of the regular process for getting a vaccine appointment, Goldberg said. That process requires signing up through a statewide registration system online at https://myvaccine.fl.gov/ or by calling 866-201-3054.

According to state data through Sunday, 6,616 people have received both of the required vaccine doses in Walton County, with an additional 4,571 people having received an initial vaccine dose.

At a Feb. 23 meeting of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, before the governor's expansion of the COVID-19 vaccination priority list, Holt told commissioners members that the county was well on its way to meeting the initial set of priorities for vaccination.

"I do believe we're going to saturate our community soon," Holt said. "We know our second-appointment shots are being filled."