Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Wednesday urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to mobilize more National Guard resources to expedite Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
In a letter to the Governor, Fried cited media reports describing Florida’s vaccine distribution as “very chaotic” and without a “clear strategy.” She also noted Tuesday’s record high positivity rate and near-record new case numbers. It is unclear whether the massive surge is a one-day spike due to how data is being reported or the sign of a massive wave in the region, Florida Politics reported Tuesday.
“I strongly encourage you to mobilize the Florida National Guard resources to oversee a timely, orderly, centralized process for distributing COVID-19 vaccines to Floridians,” Fried wrote to DeSantis.
Additionally, she called for COVID-19 vaccine distribution to be placed on the next scheduled Cabinet meeting. She further requested that personnel from the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Military Affairs and the Florida Division of Emergency Management be present at the meeting.
Fried, who stands as the state’s highest elected Democrat, said Florida has only distributed a fraction of the over 1.2 million vaccines that the state has received. According to the letter, only 15% of Florida’s available doses have been administered, accounting for roughly 0.68% of the state population.
“The lack of preparation and progress on administering these critical, life-saving vaccines is inexcusable,” Fried wrote.
Fried and DeSantis have remained at odds since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair have locked horns over lockdowns, mask mandates and more.
DeSantis, even from the earliest days, has employed a triage-like approach to managing the virus. The Governor has contended that the old and those with underlying health problems are most vulnerable to serious illness or fatality.
He’s also deferred action to local governments, contending they are best suited to determine an appropriate COVID-19 response in their jurisdiction.
Fried suggested the strategy may be problematic.
“Instead of efficient, centralized distribution management by the State of Florida, distribution has been left to hospitals and county health departments,” Fried lamented. “While you characterize this as ‘cutting out the middle man,’ vulnerable residents are left without answers r clear direction from overwhelmed local agencies on when, where, and how to receive the vaccine.”
Fried’s jab at the Governor comes hours after DeSantis announced officials in all 67 counties will be administering vaccine doses by the end of the week. There, he also highlighted Florida as the first to offer immunizations to older people in the general population.
Notably, Florida broke ranks with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, which recommended but did not require that the latest round of shots go-to essential workers and those aged 75 and older.
Residents ages 65 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
DeSantis’ cavalier vaccine approach has been complicated by national distribution and administration issues. In the letter, Fried noted that Pfizer and Moderna, two FDA approved vaccine providers, have “fallen dangerously short of expectations.”
Prior to their approval, DeSantis announced the National Guard will man “strike teams” to supplement vaccination for long-term care residents in Florida. Staff from the Department of Health and Florida Division of Emergency Management will also man the teams.
Across the country, state National Guard units have played a significant role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, with tasks ranging from COVID-19 testing and contact tracing to vaccine distribution.
As of Dec. 17, more than 825 Florida guardsmen and women remain engaged in COVID-19 related missions. In all, more than 960 virus-related missions have been conducted this year. The missions range from food distribution, logistics, COVID-19 testing and more.
The FLNG has assisted in more than 2.5 million COVID-19 tests since the onset of the pandemic.