As Polk County heads toward a likely record number of new COVID-19 cases this month, employees at Lakeland Regional Health who come into contact with patients started receiving vaccinations against the deadly virus today.

A little more than 200 employees received the Moderna vaccine today, according to Terry Hamilton, chief operating officer. It is being offered voluntarily to employees “who are at the highest risk of COVID-19 exposure from patients,” according to a hospital news release.

“We highly encourage our team members to consider receiving this promising vaccine,” said Dr. Timothy J. Regan, president of LRH’s medical center. “As an emergency medicine physician, I just received my vaccination and have full confidence in the science behind these vaccines. This is an important next step in keeping our team, patients, their families and our community safe.”

April Novotny, Lakeland Regional Health’s chief nurse executive, administers COVID-19 vaccinations to (left photo) Sheena Tatum, who takes care of housekeeping in rooms with COVID-19 patients, and (right photo) Sheena Farley, an intensive care nurse.

Polk has recorded 8,431 new COVID-19 cases in December, an average of 301.1 per day, according to figures released this afternoon. Previously, July held the most new cases with 8,664, an average of 279.5 per day.

For now, Florida’s priority list for COVID-19 vaccines includes long-term care residents, front-line health workers and residents 65 and older, in that order. However, it’s not clear yet when and where doses will be available.

LkldNow reached out to the Florida Health Department to find out how many long-term residents in Polk have received the vaccine and how seniors will know when and where to go when they’re available. The reply:

At this time, a limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine has been received by select county health departments. We are currently developing a plan for distribution that meets the requirements of the governor’s executive order as quickly as possible.

As more doses become available, we will be working with our community partners to notify the community when vaccine is available. More details will be provided on this process as it becomes available.

As of Sunday, 2,152 people in Polk County had received COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a dashboard maintained by University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. His data is based on reports from the Florida Department of Health.

Residents of Florida Presbyterian Homes were among the first Polk residents to receive the Pfizer vaccines last week, The Ledger reported. Vaccinations were also scheduled last week at The Estates at Carpenter.

Several residents older than 65 reported on Facebook that they had received the Pfizer vaccine at the Walgreen’s at Florida Avenue and Ariana Street on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By Saturday, a pharmacist said the store had run out of the doses, which had been left over from the nursing home visits.

Unlike Polk, health departments in some Central Florida counties have already started taking online and/or reservations for vaccinations.

In South Florida, people trying to reserve appointments crashed computer systems and appointment times filled rapidly on Monday, USA Today reported. In Lee County, residents waited in line all night on Sunday for spots for first-come, first-serve vaccinations.

On Tuesday, Florida authorized Walgreen’s and CVS to administer vaccinations at assisted-living facilities, as they have at nursing homes.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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