Santa Rosa Launches COVID Vaccinations

Jan 5, 2021

Gulf Breeze resident Gulf Breeze resident Ron Ivie, 74, receives a COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday from Florida Department of Health LPN Tyler Hines.
Credit Courtesy Kaitie Meyer, Navarre Press

Santa Rosa County began administering COVID-19 vaccines to eligible residents Tuesday morning at the county health department. Additionally, on Wednesday, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital plans to conduct two mass vaccination clinics, including one in Milton.

In Santa Rosa, the COVID-19 vaccine is coming at a crucial time.

“Our positivity rate is 29.2% and that’s significant. The state rate is 12.2%, so you can see we’re trending well above the state,” said Sandra Park-O’Hara, director of the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa.

As of Monday morning, the county had received about 2,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine. By Monday afternoon, the county’s citizen information line opened for reservations for individuals age 65 and older.

“We are pushing that vaccine out; we’re not holding any of that vaccine,” Park O’Hara declared. “We want it in the arms of people who want it as soon as possible.”

“Good Morning, I’m Justin Labrato, Chief Operating Officer for Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart,” said Labrato, who joined Park-O’Hara at a Monday press briefing at the Santa Rosa Emergency Operations Center.

Labrato announced plans to offer an additional 1,000 Moderna vaccines to anyone age 65 and over at a mass vaccination clinic Wednesday at the Milton Community Center. Another 1,000 doses will be offered at a separate vaccination clinic to be held simultaneously in Pensacola.

“They’re going to be for specific appointment times, either at the Milton Community Center or at Olive Baptist Church. There will be no walk-ins. So, no walk-ins, appointment only and 65 and older, only,” he stipulated.

“We are looking at a South Santa Rosa location in the Tiger Point area in the next week and that will help both south Santa Rosa County and Pensacola Beach residents to get vaccinated.”

“I would say, I understand that you’re frustrated,” said Santa Rosa Public Safety Director Brad Baker, responding to the fact that – due to heavy demand – all of the county’s available appointments for vaccinations were spoken for pretty quickly.

“They (Ascension) had issues with their link last night and didn’t get it up until late and it did get booked fairly rapidly. I know our phone line has been busy,” he acknowledged.

Even with a beefed up staff of 13 call takers, the county’s phone lines remain jammed with seniors wanting to get vaccinated. The good news, he says, is that the public wants the vaccination.

“You know, eight hours of being open, we have scheduled about 3,000 vaccination appointments. So, now we’re just doing tentative ones, based on the fact that the state said they would get us more vaccines,” Baker explained.

“You know, hopefully, we’ll get more in and we can continue to stand up sites. But, right now, we have more vaccination reservations than we have vaccination on hand, so we’ll continue to work that and work with the state to get us more.”

Baker said the county expects to get new shipments of the vaccine each week and plans to continue to take reservations through their citizen information line, 983-INFO/983-4636, daily from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. until the end of the month.

Additionally, Ascension Sacred Heart will be establishing an online link for reservations at www.getsacredheartcare.com - when more doses become available. 

For now, Santa Rosa is focused on administering the shots, both at the health department and at the mass vaccination clinic at the Milton Community Center.

One request is that individuals not arrive too early for their vaccination.

“There’s limited parking at both of these facilities, so we have to hold you over for 15 minutes and monitor you to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction to that. So, we ask that you arrive about 10 minutes before and plan to stay about 15 minutes afterwards and then we’ll ask you to leave the facility so we can bring the next folks in,” Baker said.

Santa Rosa officials have an ambitious goal of one vaccination every five minutes at the health department and 100 an hour at the community center. Baker is hoping everything will run smoothly, but he points out there are a lot of moving parts here.

“It’s been a challenge to say the least,” the public safety director conceded.

“I’ve been involved in many disasters, deployed out to many disasters, and there’s always little quirks with every disaster you go to. This one has been ever challenging, and an ever-moving target. So, we’ll continue to adapt and make things better. And, any lessons that we learn from Wednesday or next week, we’ll fix them before the next one and go forth at that.”

More information about COVID-19 vaccine and testing in Santa Rosa is available on the county’s website, www.santarosa.fl.gov.

According to Baker, what officials need most as they work to distribute the vaccine to the county’s 30,000 seniors and beyond, is patience.

“Just patience with us, because I promise you, we want the shot in your arm, probably not quite as much as you want it, if you really want it. But, we want to get it out because it does no good sitting in our freezer.”