Waiting time is not down time. While anticipation grows for sufficient, steady flow of COVID-19 vaccine to the Keys, The College of the Florida Keys (CFK) has initiated collaboration among multiple organizations in Monroe County to prepare for a future rollout. The Florida Department of Health in Monroe County (DOH-Monroe), the Medical Center at Ocean Reef, the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, Monroe County Emergency Management, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Key West, Monroe County School District, Lower Keys Medical Center, Curative, and Community Health of South Florida (CHI) are among the stakeholders working diligently and creatively together with the College. 

In recent weeks, DOH-Monroe and the Medical Center at Ocean Reef have quickly depleted their respective State-allotted supply of the vaccine to protect frontline healthcare workers and people 65 and older, in line with Governor DeSantis’ executive order. Providing the figurative and literal shot in the arm necessary to effectively staff both efforts were CFK student nurses under the direction of Mark Roby, CFK Dean of Sciences and Nursing, and Dr. Carla Fry, CFK Director of Nursing and Health Sciences. 

Positioning the College as a fighting force against the pandemic in the Keys has been a top priority for CFK President Dr. Jonathan Gueverra. He initially arranged for the College to receive vaccine from Baptist Health, a major partner of CFK, but that planned ended when the state’s distribution model changed. With an army of more than 200 students enrolled in the associate degree and bachelor’s degree nursing programs—the largest enrollment in CFK history—the College is uniquely poised to help in the vaccination effort. Gueverra connected with the Medical Center at Ocean Reef during the December holiday break while Fry connected with DOH-Monroe to arrange for student nurses to administer the first doses of vaccine. 

“CFK nursing students were so eager to help with this historic vaccine endeavor, many of them returned on a moment’s notice to assist before their winter break ended,” noted Fry. Alongside Dr. Fry and Dean Roby, nurses from the health department and the staff at the Ocean Reef Medical Center, CFK nursing students have administered over 4,000 vaccines. This represents approximately 85 percent of the vaccines administered in the county. 

Eager to build upon the success of these first rounds, elected and organizational leaders have aligned resources, expertise, and services to ready the Keys for larger-scale vaccination endeavors. Specific plans include transporting and storing the vaccine, scheduling and staffing vaccination sites, as well as administering doses to the public.  

The College recently entered into an agreement with the DOH-Monroe to become an official vaccination site. When vaccine becomes available, CFK will provide ultracold vaccine storage and designated areas on the Key West Campus with sufficient space for the public to safely distance to complete paperwork, receive the vaccine, and wait 15 minutes following their vaccination, which is a best practice to ensure safety. Nursing students, under the supervision of Fry and Roby, will administer the vaccines.  

CFK signed up on Florida Shots to receive their own allotment of vaccine to distribute to the community. “Through participation with Ocean Reef and DOH-Monroe, we have honed the vaccine process to keep operations running smoothly,” said Fry of the College’s involvement in vaccinations thus far, particularly at the Ocean Reef Medical Center, which was set up to administer 100 shots an hour. “The College is now capable of operating on our own and/or continuing to help our community partners. We stand ready to respond however future vaccine distribution should flow.” 

Many more partners have committed support. The City of Key West will contribute volunteers, first responders who have been trained to administer the vaccine, an ambulance on location should there be a need for one, as well as law enforcement support at CFK’s Key West Campus. Across the street neighbor, Lower Keys Medical Center, will provide support in the way of needle disposal service, supplies, and volunteers. 

In the middle and upper Keys, Monroe County School District is making space in two of its schools for vaccination sites. Sheriff Rick Ramsay has committed to law enforcement support for traffic and crowd control at those locations. 

“I am thankful to see how supportive each and every one of our partners have been and continue to be in the face of this crisis. The number of healthcare providers who have committed to supporting this endeavor continues to grow. We could not beat this virus without their continued assistance,” says Bob Eadie, Administrator and Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County. 

In the county’s northernmost community, the Medical Center at Ocean Reef continues to host CFK, DOH, Community Health of South Florida, and Curative to demonstrate their vaccination protocols and to help them adapt their processes for larger vaccination events. 

Additionally, the Ocean Reef Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which has contributed almost $800,000 to local nonprofit organizations assisting Monroe County residents to date, is now focusing on facilitating, accelerating, and increasing access to COVID-19 vaccine. ORCF has committed to funding supplies, staff, logistical and other needs to support the collaborative vaccination effort throughout the county. 

Monroe County Emergency Management Director, Shannon Weiner points out, “It is amazing public-private partnerships such as this, that make Monroe County an incredibly resilient community. In this county, we consistently accomplish great things by leveraging resources and partnering together.” 

As soon as vaccine becomes available in the Keys, eligible Florida residents will be able to sign up for an appointment through an online scheduling system. The public is asked to remain patient and to stand by for further announcements. When the time comes, information about vaccination locations, times, and scheduling will be shared broadly across multiple media platforms.  

Local and national health experts remind the public to continue to vigilantly follow COVID-19 safety protocols, including proper mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing.