Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz says the problem with Florida’s current vaccine rollout is a supply shortage.
President Joe Biden‘s press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that about half of Florida’s allotted vaccine are unused. Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ office shot back soon after, saying the state leads the top 10 most populous states in administering doses per capita.
Moskowitz, a Democrat and the Governor’s top official on the state’s pandemic response, said he would not give any words to the dispute.
The frenzy over Florida’s unused doses, which is 45% of doses received, Moskowitz says, comes down to almost 1 million doses reserved for booster shots.
During a presentation before a Senate panel on the pandemic Thursday, the director ran a newsreel of leaders across the country, Republicans and Democrats, noting the need for a greater supply of vaccine from the federal government.
“At the end of the day, this allocation game, they know it’s a supply issue. Every state knows it’s a supply issue. You know it’s a supply issue,” Moskowitz told reporters. “We could turn on every pharmacy in the state if we had the doses.”
While Gov. Ron DeSantis and his office have hit hard against Psaki’s statement, calling it “disingenuous” and “misinformation,” Moskowitz pulled his punches. And while the Governor has railed against Biden’s rollout plan, including “FEMA camps” to disperse the vaccine, the DEM Director threw the federal government a bone.
“I know that they’ve inherited a mess and there’s no easy button. There’s no magic bullet,” Moskowitz said. “It’s going to take time and obviously there’s pressure on them to get that done, but so far, I’ve been in communication with FEMA and it’s being worked on.”
This month, Florida has only received about 266,000 first-dose vaccines each week, and the state can administer more than 400,000 per week at its current capacity. However, the state will receive 40,000 more next week than it had previously.
As of Wednesday morning, the Department of Health reports a little more than 1 million people 65 and older have received a shot in the state. At 300,000 doses a week, Moskowitz says, it would take two months to vaccinate the remaining 65-and-older population.
“It’s better, but it doesn’t solve the overwhelming issue,” he said.
The Biden administration is planning to release all vaccines when they become available without earmarking half to be used for booster shots. That requires prior notice, DeSantis says, for how many doses the state will receive weeks in advance.
Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration is using a system that only alerts states to vaccine allotments the week before they arrive. The Biden administration has promised to announce allotments three weeks in advance, Moskowitz said, but the new administration hasn’t come through yet on that pledge.
The Director acknowledged the state created a demand that outpaced supply, but that was based on information that the federal government supplied. Based on the information they had at the time, he didn’t say Florida should have tackled the rollout differently.
“If we knew supply was going to be so limited; if they gave us more information than six days and we knew for four weeks straight that we were only going to get 250,000 doses, perhaps we would’ve made decisions,” Moskowitz said.
The state’s efforts are targeting minority communities too, he says, on top of the main focus on communities with high elderly populations. One vehicle for the state’s vaccine delivery has been churches and community groups, with an emphasis on minority communities.
“I’m pretty sure that a church has opened up in almost every district of the Black Caucus here in the state of Florida,” Moskowitz said. “We’re going to do 30 more of those this week.”
As of Wednesday’s vaccine update, White Floridians are 86% of the 65-and-older population but make up only 63% of the state’s vaccinated population. However, Black Floridians are 9% of the age cohort but are only 5% of the vaccinated population. Similarly, 16% of Floridians 65 and older are Hispanic, but 8% of people vaccinated are Hispanic.
Contributing to the disparity, 16% of people who have been vaccinated didn’t report their race, and 45% of the vaccinated population also haven’t reported whether they are Hispanic.
The Biden administration has considered using the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine production. That could let the federal government ramp up production within the companies that produce the vaccine, a strategy DeSantis has dismissed.
The Defense Production Act could also allow the federal government to break patents and permit other companies to produce doses using existing formulas, Moskowitz told senators.
“I think we’ll see the benefit of that in the coming months, but it’s not going to alleviate the supply issue in the near future,” he said.