Florida will plot its own course for future rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine, bucking recommendations from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel that states next vaccinate essential workers and people over 75 years old.
That advisory isn’t binding for governors and states, so in the Sunshine State, Gov. Ron DeSantis says the elderly will have the first shot at the vaccines. In a Tuesday press conference at The Villages, he made “very, very clear” that the state’s focus will be on its seniors.
“As we get into the general community, the vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is the greatest, and that is in our elderly population,” the Governor said. “We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population.”
The CDC panel recommended that states next vaccinate teachers, first responders, child care workers, food, agricultural and grocery story employers, correctional staff, public transit workers, postal workers, those in manufacturing and people over the age of 75. But that received blowback from the public and DeSantis, who on Monday called the recommendation “a huge mistake.”
“The problem with that as I see it is a 22-year-old service worker would get a vaccine over a 74-year-old grandmother,” he said Monday. “I don’t think that that’s an appropriate calculation of the relative risk there.”
The Governor added, “If you’re trying to mitigate based on age, certainly you’d want to vaccinate based on age.”
Speaking at UF Health in The Villages Tuesday, he looked on as a dozen health care workers and community members received Pfizer shots.
Other high-risk populations include those with comorbidities, such as heart conditions and obesity. Despite those groups including younger Floridians, they will have to wait for later rounds, possibly from the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine slated for approval early next year.
“The problem is, how do you administer that. Do you want to have the hospitals having to slice and dice everyone’s comorbidity?” DeSantis posed.
Florida is expected to receive 750,000 total vaccine doses between Pfizer and Moderna by the end of the month and 1.5 million to 2 million by the end of January. With 4.4 million people aged 65 and older and 3.1 million aged 70 and older, administering the vaccine to all who want it will take some time.
In that time, the state plans to support distribution efforts, including by administering some of the vaccines itself instead of through private partners.
“I wish it was as simple as just doing it overnight. That’s not necessarily the case,” DeSantis said.
On Monday, 61,000 Moderna vaccines arrived with 300,000 more expected Tuesday. The state also received 120,000 doses from the second shipment of Pfizer vaccines, 80,000 fewer than anticipated but a relief after DeSantis indicated those vaccines might not arrive at all.
In Biscayne Bay Monday, the Governor indicated he would wait his turn for a shot instead of cutting the line. Hospital administrators should follow suit.
“I am not stepping in line with anybody,” he said. “I’m less than 45. I’d imagine it would take me a couple more months. I will do it, but I’m not going to step in front.”
Although the vaccine has been on the ground for less than nine days, an exclusive rollout for the elderly won’t be the first time Florida blazes a trail.
On Wednesday, Florida became the first state to vaccinate longterm care facility residents and staff, opting to assemble strike teams to administer doses instead of waiting for CVS and Walgreens to begin doing so Monday.
“We wanted to cut through bureaucracy, we didn’t want to see delays, we didn’t want the entire fortunes to be in the hands of what those companies did,” DeSantis said.
Walgreens ultimately began distributing the vaccine in Jacksonville three days early, but those strike teams will remain active until every resident and staff member who wants a shot has received it, he added Monday.