Despite growing calls for more military involvement, an emergency management official on Tuesday said roughly 1,300 Florida National Guardsmen remain limited to a “logistical” role in the COVID-19 vaccination process.
Speaking to the Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security, Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Deputy Director Kevin Guthrie said troops are working in logistics rather than administering the shots or playing a more hands-on role.
An expanded role, he added, would require Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ authorization.
“They were helping us direct traffic; they were helping us capture patient information,” Guthrie explained. “They’re helping us report information into systems for follow-up such as second shots and things of that nature.”
Amid a nationally sluggish vaccine rollout, DeSantis has faced criticism for not using more Florida National Guard resources. In December, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called on DeSantis to increase National Guard involvement.
On Tuesday, Osceola Democratic Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr. — a committee member — argued more resources and troops should be used.
“When we help other states with hurricanes, they have the military trucks and they go out there and they set up the tents, they provide power, they provide areas for them to be safe,” Torres told reporters. “I think this is something that we could set up in different locations throughout the state to help vaccinate those who are having a tough time getting vaccinated because the Department of Health is overrun. The hospitals are overrun. Every little bit helps.”
Notably, Guthrie contended a larger military mobilization could have far-reaching implications. Civilian health care workers, he noted, often staff National Guard medical units.
“If we call up that medical unit task force, we’re taking a paramedic out of a rescue unit that’s at the local level, we’re taking a doctor out of the hospital at the local level,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie stood in place Tuesday for DEM Director Jared Moskowitz at the Senate meeting.
More than 648,353 have been vaccinated in Florida, according to the latest state report. Of those vaccinated, 597,119 have received the first dose and 51,234 have completed the vaccine series.