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Lee Health outlines vaccination efforts

By CJ HADDAD / cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com - | Jan 12, 2021

On Jan. 6, local health officials announced new programs to help vaccinate at-risk members of the community.

Lee Health President Dr. Larry Antonucci outlined steps the county’s leading healthcare provider is taking to vaccinate residents outside of the single location arranged for those 65 years of age and older and frontline healthcare workers at the RSW site in Fort Myers.

“While the county and health department focus on the general public, Lee Health will be taking care of special populations such as healthcare workers, our volunteers and patients who qualify for the vaccine under the governor’s Executive Order,” Antonucci said. “We have also been working with CVS to vaccinate patients and employees at our skilled nursing facilities.”

On Jan. 5, Lee Health launched a vaccination site exclusively for healthcare workers who are not employed by Lee Health.

“This site is for employees of independent medical offices, dentists and their staffs and home health agency employees, for example, so they too can get their frontline healthcare workers vaccinated,” Antonucci said.

The site is not for the general public, only healthcare workers, he stressed.

On Jan. 6, Lee Health announced it has a limited supply of vaccines available for patients at 18 Lee Physician Group Primary Care Offices for qualifying LPG patients over the age of 65 or who have significant co-morbid medical conditions. Vaccines are by appointment only. Lee Health is contacting patients who qualify to be vaccinated to schedule appointments.

Lee Health has also opened up its vaccination clinics at hospitals for auxiliary volunteers who fall within the criteria of the governor’s Executive Order.

“Unfortunately, we shut down our volunteer program early on in the pandemic to protect the health of our volunteers, as most of them are above the age of 65 and we wanted to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19,” Antonucci said. “These volunteers are critical to providing a welcoming and healing environment for our patients. We miss them greatly and getting them vaccinated is the first step to welcoming them back into our facilities.”

Antonucci also discussed the outlook for vaccine supply and what the public can expect going forward.

“We anticipate exhausting the initial supply by early next week,” he said. “Admittedly, that is a little slower than we would have liked, but we had two major holidays to deal with and we are ramping up to our goal of providing up to 1,000 vaccinations a day. As stewards of this community resource, we are also sharing the vaccine with other large medical practices so they can vaccinate their own staff. Last week we provided 400 doses to a regional medical practice for their providers.

“We have made great progress over the past two weeks. We have a robust plan in place to deliver the vaccine, and we have hired about two dozen additional nurses and customer service reps to help with vaccination sites. Demand for the vaccine is higher than our supply, and while we have been assured that more doses are coming, we ask for the community’s patience as we roll out new access points across our region,” he said.

Officials said they hope to vaccinate as many residents as possible, but that the process could take some time and asked the public to be patient.

“The goal of rapidly getting the vaccine to as many people as possible brings with it complex supply chain issues, but it is important for you to understand we have a dedicated group of leaders who are working together to get the vaccine out to our community,” Antonucci said. “We all have the same goals of protecting people and creating herd immunity as quickly as possible.”