Looking Back on the Vaccine and Moving Forward with Dr. Alina Alonso
Written by Gillian Manning and Megan Mandatta
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.
“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.
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.