Geography matters: Some FL counties have a high percent of residents vaccinated — but not others

By: - January 29, 2021 4:03 pm

An elderly resident of The Villages receives the COVID vaccine on Dec. 22, 2020. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

In the rush to give vaccine shots to as many people as possible in Florida, geography makes a difference, the Florida Phoenix has found.

An analysis that looks at the population of each county compared to the number of residents vaccinated there, shows a picture of haves and have nots in Florida.

Of the state’s 67 counties, Sumter County – encompassing much of The Villages retirement community —  has the highest percentage of people who have been vaccinated  – 12.1 percent of that county’s population.

In contrast, Glades County in south central Florida west of Lake Okeechobee has the lowest percentage — only 4.25 percent of people in the county have been vaccinated as of Thursday.

The Florida Department of Health tracks daily how many people have gotten the shots and publishes the numbers.

As of Thursday, 1,567,152 people have been vaccinated, and the state includes the number of people vaccinated in each county. But the department’s data doesn’t provide context showing which counties fare best in getting the shots to residents.

The Phoenix used U.S. Census population data for Florida counties compared to the number of people vaccinated in each county – one way to assess geographically who is getting vaccinated and who isn’t. The Phoenix used the total population of a county rather than a category of seniors 65 and older.

Overall, about 7 percent of people across the 67 counties have been vaccinated, though the range is about 4 to 12 percent.

Florida and other states continue to face challenges in getting vaccines out, and nationwide, vaccine developers are trying to increase the supply and create new vaccines.

Already, concerns have been raised about the fairness of who gets vaccines and who doesn’t. Gov. Ron DeSantis has focused on vaccinating elderly people from ages 65 and older, so it will take some time for younger people to get the vaccines.

The Department of Health data, coupled with U.S. Census data, also reveals the disproportionate percentages of vaccines given to women compared to men, and white people compare to Black.

As to geography, it’s not entirely clear why some counties vaccinate more people than others.

Here are the counties with the highest percentages of people who have gotten vaccinated in their counties. Those percentages are 10 percent or higher:

Sumter, in Central Florida; St. Johns, in northeast Florida on the Atlantic Coast; Jefferson in north Florida and straddling the Georgia line; Alachua, home of the University of Florida in Gainesville; Madison in north Florida and straddling the Georgia line; Gulf in the Panhandle, and Martin, north of Palm Beach County on the Atlantic Coast.

Stephen Kennedy, the assistant county administrator in Sumter County, said the high vaccination rate connects to the large number of seniors in The Villages. The vast majority of The Villages is in Sumter County. The 65 and older residents are a top priority in Florida, because of DeSantis’ push to vaccinate the elderly.

But even Sumter has had vaccination challenges. Kennedy said at one point there was a site set up for vaccinations in The Villages but it was taken down after a few days because of supply issues.

Still, “Our numbers are consistently still moving,” Kennedy said.

In contrast, the vaccination situation has been problematic in Glades County, where Marisa Shivers is the emergency management chief.

She said that earlier, people from communities including Sarasota, Boynton Beach and Fort Lauderdale, were coming to Glades to get vaccinated because they couldn’t get the shots in their own counties.

Shivers thinks that the state health department is counting only Glades residents in the data – not all the people who were coming in from elsewhere. So Glades’ 587 people vaccinated as of Thursday – representing 4.25 percent of residents vaccinated  – seems low.

Shivers believes at least 1,200 people, including people from other counties, have been vaccinated in Glades County.

Glades is rural and not very populous. Given the vaccine supply issue, the county at this point is getting  a small allocation of vaccine doses, Shivers said.

Glades also has logistical challenges for residents trying to get the vaccines.

“They don’t have the technology or the transportation,” Shivers said, and some seniors are homebound.

In addition to Glades, seven other counties have fewer than 5 percent of their residents vaccinated. Those are Pasco, Hillsborough, Hardee, Dixie, Hendry, Osceola and Polk. Those are generally Central Florida counties.

Here’s the full list:

County % of residents vaccinated in each county
Sumter 12.10%
St. Johns 11.21%
Jefferson 11.05%
Alachua 11.04%
Madison 10.84%
Gulf 10.83%
Martin 10.28%
Franklin 9.91%
Jackson 9.88%
Palm Beach 9.87%
Indian River 9.46%
Nassau 9.34%
Lake 9.33%
Calhoun 9.30%
Leon 9.16%
Gadsden 8.95%
Sarasota 8.67%
Citrus 8.62%
Collier 8.61%
Liberty 8.52%
Monroe 8.46%
Santa Rosa 8.32%
Duval 7.96%
Wakulla 7.93%
Hamilton 7.89%
Flagler 7.79%
Walton 7.79%
Holmes 7.69%
Marion 7.69%
Escambia 7.68%
Lafayette 7.65%
Suwannee 7.47%
Washington 7.26%
Bay 7.25%
Volusia 7.16%
Pinellas 7.15%
Seminole 7.11%
Lee 7.10%
Taylor 7.05%
Broward 6.97%
Brevard 6.94%
Charlotte 6.93%
Okaloosa 6.90%
Gilchrist 6.83%
Hernando 6.80%
St. Lucie 6.59%
Okeechobee 6.24%
Dade 6.15%
Desoto 6.06%
Manatee 5.97%
Orange 5.74%
Columbia 5.73%
Clay 5.68%
Putnam 5.51%
Levy 5.43%
Union 5.37%
Highlands 5.19%
Baker 5.14%
Bradford 5.01%
Pasco 4.93%
Hillsborough 4.87%
Hardee 4.83%
Dixie 4.81%
Hendry 4.47%
Osceola 4.33%
Polk 4.27%
Glades 4.25%
Based on # of county residents (U.S. Census) and # of people
vaccinated as of Jan. 28, 2021. (FL Dept. of Health)


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.