Florida to prioritize vaccine shipments to high-performing hospitals
Gov. Ron DeSantis gives presentation at Orlando Health on the state's coronavirus crisis responses.

Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis wants healthy competition to encourage an efficient rollout.

Hospitals in Florida that underperform in distributing their allotted COVID-19 vaccines will have their share sent to hospitals that exceed expectations, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Monday.

As of Sunday morning, 255,808 Floridians have been vaccinated, including nearly 124,000 people last week alone.

“We do not want vaccine to just be idle at some hospital system,” DeSantis said.

Florida and other states have faced what critics call a slow start to the vaccine rollout. Across the state, overwhelming demand has forced hospitals and county health departments to turn away seniors trying to register for a shot.

The Governor on Monday pushed back against people frustrated with the nationwide rollout, stressing that he trusts hospitals — which are prepared with logistical experience to distribute the vaccine — to be an effective vehicle to immunize the community.

Beginning on Dec. 14, the vaccine was only sent to five hospitals with the infrastructure to properly store the Pfizer vaccine. The following week, hospitals began receiving the Moderna vaccine, and shots were available in all counties at the end of the week that kicked off the new year.

“I think a lot of criticism nationwide is kind of unfair,” he said. “There just wasn’t the doses in hand until really right before Christmas.”

Hospitals have also not been fully staffed during the Holidays, he added.

As the first people receive the COVID-19 shots, more people are encouraged to turn out, the Governor said last week. He continued assuaging fears while speaking with reporters at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital Monday.

“There’s never been a hitch in the giddy-up, no problem with anything,” he said. “It’s a needle, some people don’t like them, but it’s not been any issue.”

Despite the Governor’s defense, Orlando Democratic State Sen. Linda Stewart pushed back Monday afternoon, arguing that many counties’ registration phone lines and portals have struggled to keep up with demand.

“Contrary to your claim, there has been a major hitch in the giddyup – about 870,000 unused vaccine does, according to the CDC,  awaiting the arms of Floridians currently blocked from receiving them as a result of your administration’s poor planning, poor distribution, or poor website technology,” Stewart said in a statement.

DeSantis relayed that hospital officials at Orlando Health said they expect to provide 4,000 shots Monday and 20,000 by the end of the week through seven hospitals, six of them in the greater Orlando area.

Before stopping for a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the Governor playfully pitted the two hospitals against each other.

“I’m going to tell Carlos Migoya, the CEO, ‘Carlos, you better be doing that, you’re going to not beat him?'” DeSantis said. “I think we want to see a healthy competition of where we’re getting this out in the community and really getting it out in a good way.”

While stopped in Miami, the Governor told reporters that Jackson Memorial was on pace to offer 10,000 vaccines a week.

“This is obviously a place that’s making good use of it,” he said.

He also announced that the state will begin looking to convert COVID-19 testing sites into vaccination sites. Those facilities with large parking capacity would be the next “additional layers to the vaccination strategy.” He was also optimistic that there would be enough doses to create additional vaccination sites.

Houses of worship will be one group to aid the rollout. On Sunday, a pilot program at a church in Escambia County offered 500 shots to people 65 and older and mostly minorities.

Any site that offers vaccines will be open seven days a week, DeSantis said, adding that “it’s not time to wait.”

State strike teams that had been distributing the vaccine to nursing homes in Broward and Pinellas counties will take on a greater role in the statewide effort as officials hope to vaccinate people in the Sunshine State’s nearly 4,000 longterm care facilities.

The Department of Emergency Management has also activated contracts for 1,000 nurses to help at sites and shorthanded hospitals.

With the new year and the next phase of the vaccine rollout, the Governor recognized the difficult year Floridians faced.

“2020, not the best year that I think any of us have had. It was really tough for a lot of people, no matter whether you ever had any encounter with COVID, it was still tough for people,” DeSantis said. “I think 2021’s going to be brighter, and I think this vaccine is going to provide a lot of hope to a lot of people.”

With the nation just past the Holidays, the Governor warned that numbers of new infections could jump in Florida and nationwide.

“But I think it’s important to point out, Florida’s approach I think is the better approach,” he said. “If you have a 73-year-old parent, 73-year-old grandparent, in the vast majority of states in this country, they are simply not eligible to be vaccinated, and we don’t believe that’s right.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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