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'I Feel Blessed': Mass. Couple Gets COVID-19 Vaccine Near Winter Home In Florida

BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS) - Dr. Ron Nadel and his wife Ronnie of Longmeadow, Mass. got their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine early this week, near their winter home in Boca Raton, Florida.

"It was easier than a flu shot," Ronnie said of the physical experience. She's 80 years old, and she and her husband, a retired physician, were eager to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

"The death rate among people in our age group is much, much higher than the average population," Dr. Ron Nadel told WBZ. "So the sooner you get protected, the better."

The Nadels were aware as they received their first shots that they were doing so ahead of thousands of elderly people in their home state of Massachusetts. That's because the state of Florida opted to flip the CDC guidelines for vaccine distribution, first offering shots to anyone over the age of 65 - an estimated five million people.

Ronnie Nadel
Ronnie and Dr. Ron Nadel (WBZ-TV)

For that reason, the system in Florida has been overwhelmed, with a limited supply of vaccines but a huge demand from senior citizens. "I was on the phone every day for hours and on numerous websites, none of which had appointments available," Dr. Nadel explained. He finally heard back about an appointment at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, but by the time he was finished scheduling his appointment, there were none available for his wife.

So, the Nadels drove to a drive thru, appointment only, vaccine clinic -- and without an appointment but rather just proving her age, Ronnie was able to get her shot.

The experience, other than the five-hour wait in the car, was painless, Ronnie said. "Until I pressed on [my arm] I could feel nothing and if there hadn't been a Band-Aid on it I probably would have forgotten that I ever had a shot," she said.

Despite their experience of getting the vaccine before many of their Massachusetts friends, the Nadels tell WBZ they think Massachusetts -- with its careful, phased vaccine rollout -- is doing the right thing. "I am much more in favor of the Massachusetts rules even though I feel blessed that I am here and could get it," Ronnie said.

In Massachusetts, health care workers and nursing homes have started receiving vaccines, and the state has moved onto vaccinating first responders. On Tuesday, Governor Baker announced the first mass vaccination site for first responders -- and eventually the public -- at Gillette Stadium.

Still, the time for the public to get vaccinated is likely months away. "Based on [supply] shortages, [Massachusetts] thought the best rationale was to give high risk workers first access to the vaccine to try to minimize losses from the healthcare workforce due to COVID infections," Dr. Mark Siedner of Mass General Hospital explained.

"Florida took a different approach," he said. "They said, 'who are the people that are most likely to die from COVID-19?'" and gave those people - the elderly - the vaccine first.

However, with limited supply of the vaccine, Dr. Siedner explained that a plan like that can create "chaos and anarchy" like we've seen in Florida.

"I think the Massachusetts plan is one that is meant to be more balanced," he said. With that said, Dr. Siedner does emphasize that we need to start getting vaccines "into the arms of older people" as soon as possible. Still, he says perspective is necessary. "We are talking about the difference between January and March, not 2021 and 2022," he said.

When asked if he would alter the state's vaccine distribution plan now, Governor Baker said he would leave it up to the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Board. "I think the recommendations that were made by our group are appropriate and I think folks over the age of 75 are part of the beginning of [Phase 2]" of distribution, Baker said.

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