Just hours after Republican State Senator Aaron Bean suggested that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration hasn’t been forthcoming with the public about the vaccine rollout plan, the Governor’s Office pointed out that according to publicly available data, Florida was leading all states in vaccinating residents over the age of 65 years, and suggested that even the CDC had decided to reverse course and follow Florida’s vaccination strategy.
The governor’s vaccination plan has been publicly available for months, and DeSantis also issued Executive Order 20-315 in December that explicitly prioritized vaccine doses to protect the state’s senior population:
During this first phase of vaccine administration. all providers administering any COVID19 vaccine shall only vaccinate the following populations:
• Long-term care facility residents and staff;
• Persons 65 years of age and older; and
• Health care personnel with direct patient contact.
“Governor DeSantis has been very clear that Florida’s number one priority is putting seniors first, and has been rapidly deploying the vaccine across the state to offer vaccinations to as many seniors who want them,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice by email late Wednesday. “Florida is far outpacing all other states in the nation that are reporting updates regarding the broader 65+ population. To date, Florida has vaccinated nearly 400,000 seniors and this accounts for 55% of all Florida’s over 700,000 total vaccinations, and that percentage is increasing with each week.”
The response from the Governor’s office came in after news reports highlighting the appearance of Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees at a Florida Senate Health Policy Committee hearing, in which Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, expressed frustration with the vaccine rollout, and suggested that Rivkees and the Department of Health needed to provide “clear direction” with respect to the vaccine rollout plans.
“If there is an orderly process that is clear and communicated well, most people are patient — they will wait their turn and know that new supplies are coming. And I can wait my turn,” said Bean. “But when there’s no information, and there’s no rhyme or reason who’s getting it, that’s the frustration.”
But many of the problems Bean and other Senators echoed are the result of a limited national supply of the vaccine, coupled with inconsistent local decisions on who should receive the doses. Already there have been reports of local health care facilities ignoring the executive order from DeSantis. Instead, some hospitals and long-term health care facilities are giving the doses to their executive staff and members of their boards, many of whom are neither high-risk nor over the age of 65 years.
“Governor DeSantis understands that vaccinating Floridians 65 and older is not only the right thing to do, but also the most effective tool we have to battle the pandemic and save lives,” Beatrice said. “As a result of the success of Florida’s unique strategy, the CDC has reversed course and is now following Florida’s lead to recommend states prioritize seniors 65 and older for vaccine deployment.”
The governor’s office pointed out that while the Federal vaccine supply remains limited, the state will be ready to deploy those doses quickly.
In recent days, DeSantis has been traveling across the state, meeting with hospital officials, health care providers, and local elected officials in some of the hardest-hit areas of the state, including Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, to ensure the vaccine is as accessible as possible.
Because demand for the vaccine is so high, DeSantis has made it clear that providers that do not utilize their doses quickly, will be passed over for additional allocations which will instead be given to higher-performing providers in high demand areas.
“Just this week, the Governor announced over 50 new locations, for a current total of over 100 Publix locations, that are offering the vaccine to seniors in their communities,” Beatrice wrote. “In addition to Publix, the Governor has been working collaboratively at all levels to develop unique sites to increase vaccine access statewide. This includes places of worship, state-run vaccination sites, deploying strike teams in partnership with the Florida National Guard to supplement federal long-term care facility efforts, and partnerships with senior living communities.”
More than 4.4 million people age 65 and older qualify for vaccinations under the governor’s executive order. Over 700,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Florida so far.