Florida is enlisting houses of worship and local services to help vaccinate their communities as the state’s rollout draws national attention.
On Thursday, people will be able to start signing up for a shot at select Publix pharmacies in Citrus, Hernando, and Marion counties with vaccinations beginning Friday. Now, Floridians in the Pensacola area can get a shot at Olive Baptist Church and the Milton Community Center, where 1,000 will be available per day.
That follows a pilot program Sunday that successfully vaccinated 500 people, largely minorities, at the Brownsville Community Center, a dry run for community centers and houses of worship. DeSantis said church sites are the next steps to reach the state’s seniors, some of the most susceptible people to severe COVID-19 cases.
Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital will help administer the vaccine at the two permanent sites.
“Somebody asked me, it must be a miracle of God you got the Catholic and the Baptists working together,” said Olive Baptist Church pastor Ted Traylor. “I said amen, that’s a good day.”
DeSantis wants any vaccination site in the state to be open seven days a week to keep vaccine doses moving.
“What we don’t want to do is you have 1,200 doses possible at the end of Friday, and then you say, ‘OK, we’ll just see you Monday,'” he said. “If those doses are there, be open Saturday, be open Sunday.”
The Governor has faced national scrutiny for handing vaccination distribution duties to hospitals, county health departments and other local providers. But in a Tuesday evening appearance on Fox News, he told Tucker Carlson he doesn’t “seek validation by the media.”
In Pensacola, he doubled down on his strategy of “setting priorities” while allowing decentralized sites to be the vaccine’s delivery mechanism.
“What you don’t want the government to do is to try to displace our health care infrastructure that we have here,” DeSantis said. “They know what they’re doing. They know how to deliver this.”
Despite the Governor’s insistence, questions still linger over why the state didn’t create a centralized signup portal for a vaccination appointment. Some critics have questioned the effectiveness of the period following the November election in which he was largely absent from the public eye for what he described as preparation for the rollout.
“It’s not all through the state. That’s what I think that people don’t understand,” DeSantis said Wednesday during a stop in Miami. “For us to direct every dose that goes for hospitals and all that would be a total Charlie Foxtrot, let me tell you. It would not work well.”
Vaccine distributors have been flooded by seniors seeking their shots, of which supply is still low. Signups for the Olive Baptist Church location were all reserved within two hours.
Websites and phone lines have also been clogged. In places like Lee County, which initially offered the vaccine on a first-come-first-served basis, people camped out overnight to reserve a spot in line.
Access to customer service is a valid concern, the Governor conceded, but he noted that most hospitals have worked through their registration issues. He has also directed county health departments and state-run sites to place additional personnel on phone lines.
“You’re right. Some people just want to talk to somebody, and maybe they don’t know [the] internet as much as we think that everyone does,” DeSantis said.
Meanwhile, the Governor has encouraged people to be patient and keep trying each day until they’re able to get a vaccine. The state is creating more vaccination sites, including at the Hard Rock Stadium, Marlins Park in Miami, with more announcements planned for the coming days.
“I don’t think it’s going to take three months, but I think every week we’ll get more, and then more and more people will be able to do it,” he said.