Gov. Ron DeSantis is undercutting pleas from hospital officials for individuals to get vaccinated, saying fully vaccinated people are still contracting COVID-19.
Speaking during a roundtable Wednesday with hospital CEOs from across the state to discuss Florida’s surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, DeSantis noted “we have seen a lot of fully vaccinated people test positive.”
The latest data shows Florida accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s new COVID-19 cases and the state just logged its latest record-breaking number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday.
DeSantis’ comment came even as hospital officials at the roundtable were urging people to get vaccinated.
After DeSantis’ claim, Orlando Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. George Ralls said those numbers are actually low.
“Despite the information that’s coming out about people that are fully vaccinated still getting COVID, those numbers are low, number one. And, they are absolutely still in a better situation than they would have been had they gotten COVID without the vaccine,” Ralls said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs Ralls’ statement.
“The risk that fully vaccinated people could become infected with COVID-19 is low,” a statement reads.
Most of the hospital officials at the roundtable reported 90% or more of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Tampa General CEO John Couris explained instances of vaccinated patients contracting the virus are low, and patients who were vaccinated and end up hospitalized usually have underlying conditions that exacerbated the illness.
“We have transplant and a lot of cancer patients that are vaccinated, got COVID and have ended up at our hospital because they’re immunosuppressed anyways,” Couris explained.
Hospital officials echoed statements made Thursday by Florida Hospital Association CEO Mary Mayhew who said COVID-19 patients this summer are much younger than patients hospitalized last summer and attributed the new age skew to a higher rate of vaccination among Florida’s seniors.
“For this current wave about 55% of our inpatients are between 40 to 64 years old, so it’s a younger group,” Ralls said, adding that the younger patients are “heavily represented” by unvaccinated patients.
“Unfortunately, that vaccine message didn’t really penetrate the way we had hoped in everybody, but it definitely did protect the older group,” he added.
Despite the shift toward younger patients, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida rose to an all-time high of 11,515 patients in one day, according to data the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Tuesday. The figures also show 2,400 of those patients occupy ICU beds.
But that surge is affecting regions in the state differently.
Couris reported Tampa General has more COVID-19 patients hospitalized now than it ever has.
“There’s no question, Governor, that our ERs are full, and we are busy. We have the most COVID patients that we’ve ever had through the pandemic,” Couris said.
Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System located in Miami said the number of COVID-19 patients at his hospital is “dramatically lower” than what they saw last summer. But, Migoya pointed out 78% of residents in his area are vaccinated.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller said her office is in contact with all hospitals about their needs during the surge. Miller said her office is working to expedite approvals for new staff members and making sure rural hospitals have the equipment and supplies needed to treat patients.
Partway through the roundtable, DeSantis directed the conversation to monoclonal antibody treatment, a treatment the Food and Drug Administration has granted doctors to use in emergency situations. Monoclonal antibodies are basically COVID-19 antibodies that have been made in a laboratory. The treatment is typically used on patients very sick with the virus, according to the CDC.
“I can tell you, anecdotally, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone who wasn’t happy that they did it,” DeSantis said about the life-saving treatment.
Couris said the treatment has been “very effective” and his hospital is conducting monoclonal antibody treatment about 35 to 40 times a day.
“We are treating people that are not vaccinated, and we are treating people that have had breakthroughs (cases among vaccinated individuals) — as rare as breakthroughs are — we’re treating those people as well,” Couris said.
Couris said clinicians at his hospital advise the treatment is most effective if administered within five to seven days of contracting COVID-19.
“The two messages here are really, obviously, vaccinated people have a lot less potential for getting hospitalized. That’s extremely important. And if you get sick, go see someone in the first seven days,” Migoya said.