Valrico resident Helen Lepre was one of the first in the area to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the county.

The long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine has arrived and it has given all of us a light at the end of the dark pandemic tunnel. It’s a welcome sign that our lives will eventually go back to normal.
This new hope has come with a few challenges, such as getting the vaccine.

On January 4, Hillsborough County, in partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, began to expand its vaccination efforts to residents ages 65 and older.

Based on a transfer of 3,000 doses from Tampa General Hospital, a partner in the county’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, as well as additional vaccine doses anticipated to arrive from the State of Florida in the future, Hillsborough will be providing a total of 9,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the vulnerable elder residents.

Appointments are mandatory for senior residents to get the first of two vaccine injections, but some residents had difficulty making appointments because spots filled up quickly.

Helen Lepre of Valrico was able to get an appointment with the help of her daughter-in-law, Michelle Colesanti, also of Valrico.

“I had my first vaccine shot at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds on the first day they were given,” Lepre said. “The staff was very well organized and polite. I did not have to leave the car to get the shot. I will return in three weeks for the second shot. I’m thankful for the great service I received.”

Colesanti knew Lepre would have challenges making the appointment, due to the limited number of appointments being available.

“Given the problems early on with the Hillsborough County website, I was extremely grateful, and consider myself lucky, that I got through online and was able to secure registration for my 90-year-old mother-in-law for the vaccine on the first day it was available,” Colesanti said. “It’s the first step in allowing her to safely see friends and family.”

On January 5, in an effort to make the vaccination accessible for elderly residents, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) and Florida Department of Health (FDOH) have partnered with Publix Supermarkets to establish COVID-19 vaccination sites. Governor DeSantis made this announcement at the first Publix vaccination site in Ocala.

Through a partnership with FDEM and FDOH, Publix is receiving 15,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to launch a new pilot program at 22 select Publix Supermarkets, which began on January 8.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to increase vaccinations and put Florida’s seniors first, I’m pleased to announce this innovative partnership with Publix,” said Governor DeSantis. “At the end of the day, we are all in this together, and the State of Florida thanks Publix for their willingness to step up and lend their infrastructure to this critical cause.”

Until Publixes in Hillsborough County are offering the Moderna vaccination, elder residents will need to make an appointment to receive the vaccination at one of the vaccination locations in the county.

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccination or if you’d like to make an appointment for the vaccination, you can visit the Hillsborough County website at or call 272-5900.

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Libby Hopkins
Libby Hopkins has been a part of the Brandon community for more than 30 years. She is a graduate of USF with a degree in journalism. She has been a freelance writer for The Osprey Observer Newspaper since 2008. She also the Executive Director of Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association. She is a dog mom to her rescue dog, Marshall. She loves being a part of the Brandon Community and she loves sharing positive news about our community.