Published On: Fri, Jun 18th, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollouts in Palm Beach County, and how it impacts Boca Raton

Written by: Gillian Manning, Lauren Do Nascimento, Kathryn Hubbard, and Megan Mandatta

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For how private schools are being affected, click here

For our exclusive with Dr. Alina Alonso, state health department director for Palm Beach County, click here

For How colleges are being affected, click here

Looking Back on the Vaccine and Moving Forward with Dr. Alina Alonso

On March 26, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-79 extending the minimum age requirement to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of March 29, those 40 and older were eligible to receive their vaccine and as of April 5, those 18 and older would be eligible.

Since then, over 10,000,000 people in Florida have either received their first shot or completed their COVID-19 vaccine series. Vaccines have become readily available to most Floridians at nearly every pharmacy.

Quickly following the widening of vaccine availability, DeSantis moved forward to lifting mask mandates noting we should not “be policing people at this point,” at a bill signing event in St. Petersburg.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began rolling back their COVID-19 safety precautions for those who are fully vaccinated and trust that the vaccine can be an effective way to protect yourself and those around you.

But this brings up many questions not only in Boca Raton and Florida, but nationwide. The longevity of the vaccines’ effectiveness is still being studied and many are hesitant to get the vaccine.

In Palm Beach County, 136,969 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 612,147 have their series complete. The total number vaccinated are 749,116 according to The Florida Department of Health.

The seemingly sudden easement of COVID-19 restrictions upon the rollout of the vaccines some noticed a subtle trend. This trend is the tendency for some to only receive their first dose of a two-dose vaccine series- which does not make them fully vaccinated.

“I know there are, in terms of the first doses and second doses there’s a little bit of a discrepancy, but I don’t see a lot of people missing their second dose,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County.

Dr. Alina Alonso

“Why would you want only want 50% protection when you could have 95% protection. It doesn’t make any sense. You’re wasting this fantastic vaccine by only getting half of it,” Alonso said.

Joe Biden’s current goal is to have 70% of the American population vaccinated by July 4, which is also the percentage that Dr. Fauci argues is necessary to reach herd immunity; other experts argue that number should be between 80% and 90%.  

While some may think that after recovering from COVID-19 that there is a natural immunity, Alonso clarified that it isn’t as effective as the vaccine and stated that people have gotten sick from the virus more than once. 

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re going to catch it,” Alonso said.

In Palm Beach County, 44.5% of residents are vaccinated, according to the CDC. The vaccination rate for individuals who are 65 or older is at least 76.5% but that number steadily decreases amongst younger age groups. 

The vaccination rate of the 40 to 49 age group is 49%, 30 to 39 is 39%, 20 to 29 is 32%, and 12-19 is 22%, Alonso said. 

“I do not think that we’re going to be able to hit the 70% that we want,” she said. 

Alonso explained that the higher rate of vaccination among older groups is because they are more at risk and continue to experience the highest rate of mortality from the virus. Younger people make up the majority of new COVID-19 cases, but they recuperate. 

“They think it’s no big deal, but the problem is what? The long-term consequences that they realize they’re getting,” Alonso said. “The younger you are, the more that’s going to impact you.”

Those consequences include loss of smell and taste, as well as damage to the heart, kidney, and brain. 

A number of athletes haven’t been able to compete and are now on multiple inhalers; there are firemen who haven’t been able to return to work in six months all as a result of having had the coronavirus, Alonso explained.

Student-athletes could lose their scholarships and everything they’ve been training for if they continue to go unvaccinated and get sick, Alonso said, and Palm Beach County is counting on coaches to help encourage students to get vaccinated. 

The county has also been trying to persuade younger people to get their vaccines through mobile vans and other incentives. 

One incentive program, she called “a shot for a shot.” Mobile vaccine units traveled around town and individuals who got their vaccine could show proof to participating bars and receive a free alcoholic shot in return. 

Public schools in Palm Beach County will resume in-person learning for the upcoming fall semester as will Boca Raton’s universities; Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University have both announced their plans to return to full capacity, on-campus learning.

“We’re going to have transmission possibly in the schools… When we start getting into winter, we may see a spike of COVID, because it will come back,” Alonso said. “I don’t think we’re going to see surges, because of the vaccine, but we’re going to see spikes.”

There have been weekly meetings between the health department and local universities to ensure that schools are ready to return.

The county may be more relaxed in the approach with quarantines, isolating people only where there are outbreaks. If a child in school gets sick, they’ll have to quarantine. 

A young boy receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from his pediatrician

It’s the same process as before the coronavirus pandemic, if a student doesn’t have a mandatory vaccine, such as measles or norovirus, they are kept at home. 

“That is something that’s been normal, there’s nothing new about quarantine and having to take kids out of school when something like this occurs,” Alonso said.

She encouraged anyone who feels sick to stay home from work and school. Alonso said that as schools plan to open in the fall, people can continue to stay safe with vaccinations, social distancing, and wearing masks. 

Vaccines are not 100% effective, people can still get sick and pass the virus on to others. Safety precautions are a way to protect yourself and others, Alonso explained, emphasizing that the people around you could be unvaccinated or immunocompromised. 

“I think we have an obligation to keep our community safe and do the best we can for everybody because you don’t know who’s next to you,” Alonso said.

Private schools in Boca Raton make COVID-19 vaccinations optional

Two private schools in Boca Raton are not requiring their students to receive COVID-19 vaccines for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.

American Heritage and Spanish River Christian will not require their students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the upcoming year. Currently, students twelve and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. 

Prior to enrollment, public and private schools in Palm Beach County require students entering kindergarten and seventh grade to provide immunization records. Spanish River Christian and American Heritage require parents to provide a Florida Certification of Immunization prior to the academic year

As the vaccine rollout continues, Palm Beach County Schools could require students to provide documentation of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, American Heritage and Spanish River Christian are two private schools that will not require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Students at Spanish River Christian

“We do not have an update at this time [for students receiving the COVID-19 vaccine],” says Melanie Hoffman, Director of Public Relations.

As the 2021-2022 school year approaches, American Heritage may provide further information on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for eligible students. Spanish River Christian announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will be optional for the 2021-2022 academic year.

“At this point, we will not be requiring [the COVID-19 vaccine] for the next school year,” says Kathi Wyant, Office Administrator.

Since the beginning of the vaccine rollout last December, 46 percent of Palm Beach County residents are fully vaccinated. As the age requirement lowers for vaccine eligibility, private schools in Palm Beach County may reconsider vaccine requirements for students.

 Vaccinations from a university perspective

Since the FDA and CDC approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson many have gotten their shots. However, there have been mixed feelings about the effectiveness of each vaccine. Some people trust the science behind the vaccines while others don’t, but that is not the only time where opinions diverge from each other. People can choose to get a vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson and each vaccine is administered differently. However, many don’t feel the need to get a second dose which is needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to be fully effective. 

In some universities, methods were put in place to make vaccines mandatory before the return to classes. However, with new bills and laws that have recently been passed these regulations are no longer mandatory. Many local universities have different COVID-19 guidelines or positions and it can sometimes be confusing to understand. With that being said, here is how our local universities are dealing with COVID-19, their guidelines and what they think about the vaccine. 

Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University, or FAU, was one of the first universities to allow students to be maskless indoors. The university plans to open fully and resume in-person learning for the upcoming academic year. It plans to continue following CDC guidelines around campus. 

Florida Atlantic University

Some of those guidelines would include social distancing, recommended use of face coverings, wiping down frequently used surfaces, encouraging vaccination and vaccine reporting, encouraging students and staff to get tested and encouraging sick students to maintain a 14-day quarantine.

FAU does not provide on-campus vaccination and is not a vaccination site. Although vaccination is not required by the university, FAU strongly encourages students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated and return to campus in person. For more information about FAU’s Covid-19 protocols, visit their website.

Palm Beach State College

Palm Beach State College, or PBSC, intends to keep following CDC guidelines on their campus. Some of the college’s efforts include requiring students, faculty, and staff to watch a training video on COVID-19 before returning to campus, provide face coverings for their employees, provide additional cleaning supplies, adjusting schedules to fit the social distancing guidelines and enhancing air ventilation and filtration.

Palm Beach State College

PBSC also strongly encourages the use of face coverings around campus, frequent cleaning of surfaces and social distancing among students, faculty, and staff. The college will also work with the Health Care District to provide onsite Covid-19 testing. PBSC is also extending mental health aids for its community to use during their transition to in-person learning.

PBSC will not require their students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated before the next academic year and plans to return to in-person and on-campus learning. For more information about PBSC’s Covid-19 protocols, visit their website

Lynn University

Lynn University expects students, faculty, and staff to return to on-campus learning in the upcoming fall. The university recommends that its students and faculty follow the CDC guidelines and prevention methods. Some of these methods include wearing face coverings, social distances, frequent hand, frequent cleaning of surfaces and COVID-19 testing. 

Lynn University

Lynn will be providing its community with on-campus COVID-19 testing by appointment only. The university will also issue a periodical and mandatory COVID-19 screening questionnaire. Lynn University also hopes to resume study abroad in January 2022 and awaits CDC guidance for international travel.

The university does not require its students, faculty, or staff to get vaccinated before the upcoming fall semester. Lynn will also not administer vaccines on campus. For more information about Lynn’s Covid-19 protocols, visit their website

Florida International University 

Florida International University, or FIU, has partnered with Jackson Health System to encourage people to get vaccinated since April 2021. The university will also make the Pfizer vaccine available to children of faculty, staff or who live with a student. For a child to be eligible they must be between the ages of 12 to 15. The children’s vaccination started on May 19.

Florida International University

FIU will require all students, faculty, and staff to complete a P3 questionnaire before arriving on campus. The university will continue using CDC guidelines, including face coverings, cleaning surfaces, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

The university intends to return to in-person learning for the next academic year. FIU is also administering the COVID-19 vaccine to its university community since January 2021. It will not require students, faculty, and staff to receive a vaccine, but it is strongly encouraged by the university. For more information about FIU’s Covid-19 protocols, visit their website.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University, or NSU, intends to return fully to on-campus learning in the upcoming fall. NSU had previously made it mandatory for faculty, students, and staff to get vaccinated before the start of the fall semester but has since then removed that mandate. The university is now strongly encouraging that its community get vaccinated before the start of classes.

Nova Southeastern University

NSU intends to encourage students and staff to get the vaccine with voluntary vaccine reporting. NSU Vax MAx is a platform that will allow students, faculty, and staff to report if they’ve received the vaccine to the university. NSU expects that this will help the university return to normalcy and follow CDC guidelines. 

The university will continue to follow CDC guidelines of social distancing, recommending face coverings, cleaning surfaces and frequent hand washing. NSU hopes that 80% of its community will be vaccinated by August 1 and allow the university more flexibility in the fall. NSU is also a vaccination site and administering vaccines to its community and anyone eligible. For more information on NSU’s COVID-19 protocols, visit their website.

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