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COVID-19 Vaccine Demand Softens In Some Areas As Eligibility Expands

Cars and trucks fill a parking lot lined with traffic cones.
Daylina Miller/WUSF
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WUSF
The federally supported vaccine site at Tampa Greyhound Track is one of multiple Florida locations reporting leftover doses as fewer people seek vaccinations.

County officials say the problem isn’t the supply of vaccines — it’s the demand.

As Florida lowers the age eligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, some Tampa Bay area counties are reporting that demand is lower than expected.

Vaccinations are now available to Floridians age 40 and over. Next week, eligibility will expand to those 18 and older, as well as 16 and 17-year-olds with parental consent.

Despite increases in eligibility, some counties are struggling to fill available appointment slots.

“I really did expect that as we move through the age ranges, we would see a higher demand, and we were ready for that,” said Jacob Saur, Manatee County Director of Public Safety. “So far, we have not seen a mass influx of those wanting to get vaccinated.”

As of Tuesday, Manatee had heard from 4,274 people in their 40s who were interested in being vaccinated.

An additional 4,000 people under 40 are on a county waitlist awaiting eligibility.

Those 8,000 people make up just 6% of the estimated 132,722 people between the ages of 18 and 49 in the county, according to census data.

“I would say we're only at about 25 percent of our population here locally that's been vaccinated, and the majority of those are 65 and older,” Saur said. “We have a goal of getting the 75 percent before we start talking about herd immunity and getting back to some normalcy, so to be in this type of position this early in the game is troublesome and worrying.”

The low number of appointments also changed the way Manatee County receives vaccine doses from the state.

The county typically received 11,000 doses each week. But with supply outpacing demand, the state changed the way it allocates vaccines to Manatee.

Instead of the state sending a set amount of vaccines to the county every week, it's providing a number of doses based on the county’s demand.

“Through no-shows and just not being able to schedule enough willing participants to get the vaccine, we've had some overages, so we have a pretty good stockpile of vaccines,” Saur said. “As we continue to have trouble, we might back down how many appointments that we schedule and we might close down a drive-thru site.”

After many of Florida’s seniors received their vaccinations, other parts of the state have also seen a softening of demand.

The FEMA site at Tampa’s Greyhound Track was not overwhelmed when Florida expanded vaccine eligibility to those age 50 and over, with reports that there had been leftover doses as fewer people sought vaccinations.

This week, the Department of Health in Pinellas County tweeted out that it has many appointments available for the first week of April when vaccine eligibility is set to expand to those 16 and older.

In anticipation of more demand due to expanded eligibility, the state increased the number of first doses at the federally supported sites from 500 to 3,000 this week.

FEMA sites in Orlando and Miami began offering vaccines to people 40 and over ahead of the state’s eligibility expansion. And earlier this month, there were reports that some federally sponsored sites were vaccinating all Florida residents over 18 due to low demand.

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