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Residents In Florida Retirement Community Among 1st To Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The last nine months have been hard for everyone. They've been especially hard for people in senior living. More than 100,000 people who have died of COVID-19 here in the U.S. have been long-term care staff or residents. And then there's the isolation.

PEGGY GOLDEN: We haven't been able to see our families unless they live close by. And for a period of time, we were not allowed to see our family. No visitors allowed at all. I haven't seen my children or grandchildren in a year.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That is 76-year-old Peggy Golden. She lives at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, Fla., in independent living, where this morning, for the first time in a long time, there was some hope. Golden and other residents and staff at John Knox Village were able to receive some of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. I reached Peggy on the phone right after she got the shot.

GOLDEN: I'm sitting in the recovery area, and I was processed through. One of the people who work here asked me to take a movie of her on the phone receiving the shot. She was really excited about it.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, you're taking part in history this week.

GOLDEN: So yeah, but I haven't been following it, like, day by day, so I'm just thrilled to be in the first round.

KELLY: And how are you feeling?

GOLDEN: I feel fine.

KELLY: Good. And the person who asked you to take a video on their phone, is that kind of the general mood there? People are excited this morning?

GOLDEN: Yes. These people have been struggling with keeping their families healthy and keeping our long-term care residents healthy. People who work here do not live here, so they had to struggle to stay healthy outside of the protective environment that I live in. The community here is very well protected.

KELLY: What would your message be to other Americans - and I suppose especially other older Americans - who may be nervous about this, may be waiting and wondering and trying to figure out should they get the vaccine when it becomes available?

GOLDEN: I think anybody who wants to be able to move around freely should be getting the vaccine. We have been on lockdown in our county, and then we are in lockdown in our community here. And I think that anybody who wants to live a higher quality of life that's going to be available to them should be going ahead and getting it.

KELLY: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I'm so glad you're doing well and that all went well this morning.

GOLDEN: OK, and I'm so glad to talk to you because I am very much a fan of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KELLY: That's great to hear. Thank you for listening to us there. We appreciate it, Peggy Golden.

And we are joined now by NPR's Greg Allen, who is tracking this from Miami. Hey there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we just heard Peggy Golden talk about getting her vaccine today. And I'm trying to square that with what I understood, which was that the federal program to vaccinate residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is supposed to get underway next week. Why is Florida starting early?

ALLEN: Well, you know, Florida is one of four states that didn't want to wait for the federal program. Ohio, Connecticut and West Virginia also decided they wanted to get started this week. Here in Florida, I think a lot of it has to do with the governor, Ron DeSantis', strategy of protecting the most vulnerable residents and then opening up the rest of the state. Of course, the most vulnerable are the people who live in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. And that's where most of the deaths have occurred.

And his strategy has been to encourage other people to get on with their lives. Kids should be back in classes. And he lifted all restrictions on businesses. He's really not even said there should be a mask mandate statewide. But the idea now is to use the vaccine the federal government has provided, use National Guard and local EMS personnel to go out and start doing vaccinations of these people who are most vulnerable.

KELLY: And so how extensive is the state effort going to be? And I suppose the second question, which would be, how are they going to make sure that the Florida program complements, instead of complicates, the federal effort?

ALLEN: Right. Well, there are a lot of nursing home residents and assisted-living facility residents to vaccinate - you know, some 200,000 here in Florida. The strike teams that they've got are working in just two areas to start - Broward County, where Pompano Beach is, where you're from Peggy Golden, and also Pinellas County over on the Gulf Coast. They say that's where the greatest concentration of assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are. And this is voluntary, not mandatory. We'll have to see how many people do it.

The sense is that as it gets going, more and more people are going to be doing it. Then next week, the federal government, as you say, will get started the federal program with CVS and Walgreens. They have some 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that they'll begin using here in Florida. And as that goes on, they'll continue that. And that will take some weeks to get everyone vaccinated who wants it.

KELLY: NPR's Greg Allen reporting on the vaccination effort underway in Florida.

Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.