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Residents, staff at Fernandina Beach Assisted Living Facility receive 1st dose COVID-19 vaccine

The push to vaccinate residents at assisted living facilities had a slow start. But administrators at a local facility said there's light at the end of the tunnel.

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — The prioritization of seniors at long-term care facilities in Florida was emphasized during initial vaccine distribution announcements in the state, but the actual rollout had a rocky start which is still underway.

On December 29, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA) said distribution to "assisted living facilities" had begun.

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Since then, facilities like Family Extended Care have been scheduling vaccine clinics with CVS and Walgreens, the two federal partners coordinating distribution efforts to long-term care facilities.

Linda Walker, Chief Operating Officer of Family Extended Care, said she was concerned because skilled long-term care facilities, which house people with more intense medical needs, were part of the initial rollout while assisted living facilities were left out.

"Long term care and the skilled side of things were getting the first wave of vaccines," Walker said. "We were a little concerned we were gonna be bypassed because they started offering to the general public, 65 and older, and not scheduling our clinics."

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Walker said it took lobbying by associations like FALA to the state to activate the distribution program for assisted living facilities.

Family Extended Care of Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach received its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday.

"We've lost residents in some of our facilities from the virus, and so this first step really brings us back to, hopefully by summer, where we can be active with our residents and they can be active," Walker said. "And we can not be so afraid of losing them." 

Since vaccine distribution for the general public 65 years and older was first announced, lines of seniors have formed at vaccine sites across the state, prompting criticism by leaders who have called for changes to Florida's distribution plans.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the state has hired a company based out of Miami to oversee distribution to long-term care and assisted living facilities, with the goal of getting vaccines to every facility by the end of January.