Gov. Ron DeSantis says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now following Florida’s lead on pushing vaccines out to those 65 and older.
President Donald Trump‘s administration is asking states to speed delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older and to others at high risk by no longer holding back the second dose of the two-dose shots, officials said Tuesday. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said “the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under HHS, initially recommended that the current phase go to essential workers and people 75 and older. However, Florida immediately broke with the federal government on that choice and late last month became the first state to start vaccinating the general populace of people 65 and older.
“We didn’t follow it because it would have allowed a 20-year-old healthy worker to get a vaccine before a 74-year-old grandmother or grandparent,” DeSantis said. “That does not recognize how this virus has effected elderly people.”
Speaking at a press conference in the Villages on Tuesday, the Governor implied credit for health officials’ new strategy.
“HHS is now going to tell states, basically do what Florida is doing. Focus on that 65 and up population,” DeSantis said.
That strategy is the most effective in reducing deaths and hospitalizations for COVID-19, he said.
“Putting seniors first was the right decision,” he added. “If you look at Florida, in terms of the number of shots that we have for senior citizens, we are leading the country by a country mile on this.”
The Governor also took credit for Azar’s claim that vaccine production is high enough now that the second dose of the two-shot vaccine can be released without jeopardizing immunization for those who got the first shot.
“We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production,” Azar told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”
DeSantis pointed to his mid-December suggestion that the states should administer all first doses as soon as possible to cast a wider immunization net.
Before HHS’ reversal Tuesday, for each dose delivered, the federal government was holding on to a second dose until it was time to distribute them.
“Just get as many doses out there,” the Governor said during a roundtable in Tampa last month. “I’m not sure that Pfizer would agree or FDA would agree, but I think just the point is, getting that first dose out really does make a difference, and I think you’ll see that.”
But the following week, he sided with the federal rollout strategy.
“They didn’t want to send it all, I think smartly, because you don’t want to just keep 200,000 vaccines and tell someone they can’t get it, so you’re going to use that. And then when it’s time for the booster — 21 days — those other shots will come,” he said.
President-elect Joe Biden‘s transition team said Friday that his administration would push all doses to states as they become available. The media’s less critical response to that decision drew DeSantis’ ire during a stop Tuesday in Niceville.
“I wonder why they would do that? Why the difference there? Jeez, I really need Inspector Clouseau after that one,” he said.
But other states are also vaccinating essential workers, putting younger people in the queue with the older cohort.
“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” DeSantis said.