The first signs of trouble with Florida’s vaccine rollout plan surfaced early last week, when Governor Ron DeSantis blamed Pfizer for “production issues” that would cause hundreds of thousands of doses to be delayed. Then Pfizer fired back that there was no production delay, and the problem wasn’t on their end.
By Saturday, the federal government took responsibility for the confusion about how many doses of vaccine Florida was supposed to receive. U.S. Army General Gustave Perna, the official in charge of overseeing Operation Warp Speed, took responsibility for overestimating the number of doses that would be available in the early weeks of the rollout.
“It was a planning error, and I am responsible,” Perna said. “We’re learning from it. We’re trying to get better.”
But the confusion prompted more questions from a number of Florida media outlets, including The Capitolist, seeking answers to basic questions about the vaccine rollout plan. Those questions included who, ultimately, was responsible for overseeing and administering the massive inoculation plan for millions of Floridians, which agencies were tracking the doses, who was responsible for ensuring patients got their second dose on time, and more.
“All great questions,” answered DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo in an email exchange last Tuesday. “Let me find out.”
One week and several attempts to follow up with DeSantis’s communications office later, and still no answers were forthcoming. Several emails were also sent to Florida Department of Health communications office and their desk at the Division of Emergency Management (which doesn’t take press questions by phone). Those messages were similarly acknowledged but never answered.
By contrast, it took less than an hour to get comprehensive details about vaccination plans from Florida’s hospitals, nursing homes and elder care facilities put in place by health care facilities across the state.
“Hospitals have developed vaccination workplans to prioritize employee vaccinations based on demographic and exposure risk factors,” said Monica Corbett, a Senior Vice President with the Florida Hospital Association (FHA) “Hospitals are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) guidance and prioritize employees who are in direct contact with COVID patients.”
Health care officials seemed to know more about the state government’s own role in the vaccination plan than the Florida Department of Health or DeSantis’s own administration officials. When asked if any government agency was actually tracking which individuals received the vaccination, FHA said that the state’s Department of Health tracked the data through a program called “Florida Shots.”
For nursing home residents, vaccinations begin today, under a federal contract with CVS and Walgreens to set up vaccination centers inside nursing home facilities. The first wave of shots are centered in counties with high concentrations of nursing homes and elderly residents, which have been focused on getting the administrative side of the plan set up, according to the Florida Health Care Association.
“The facilities are working to obtain consent [from patients and their families],” said FHCA Communications Director Kristen Knapp. “Facilities have to get the consent forms signed by the residents and the staff. They’ve been working for the last few weeks to get those forms signed.”
Despite the lack of details from the DeSantis Administration, officials expect hundreds of thousands more people to receive the vaccination over the next ten days.
Florida received 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, of which around 100,000 went to five Florida hospitals. Tens of thousands were sent to CVS and Walgreens which will administer them inside specified long-term care facilities and will also ensure the follow up doses are administered.
According to the original plan, DeSantis says he directed 21,450 doses be sent to the Florida Department of Health to help at long-term care facilities, which are focusing efforts in Broward and Pinellas counties.
DeSantis’s office said Thursday the state expects next week to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which was poised for federal Food and Drug Administration approval Friday.