Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to ramp up vaccine distribution but warned it will be a while before vaccines are available to the public at large.
On Monday, the Governor spoke in Longwood at a regional hospital for Orlando Health. He announced Orlando Health will open up multiple vaccination sites in Central Florida, including Orlando, Longwood, Clermont and St. Petersburg as the Sunshine State’s 4.4 million seniors are first in.
“People need to be patient and understand that and I think they do,” DeSantis said in response to being asked about the matter by Florida Daily. He also defended the plan to vaccinate those seniors first by using an old refrain.
“We don’t want a situation where somebody is 20 years old working at a grocery store, which is an honorable thing and great, but should that person get priority over a 74 or 73-year-old grandmother?” DeSantis said.
In the meantime, some groups, including teachers, who have been clamoring to get to the front of the line for protection from COVID-19, will have to wait.
Saying “our senior population deserves to be the priority”, the governor announced the state government will try to convert test sites run by the state in some counties into vaccination sites. Many of those locations will be drive-thru sites. More than 1,000 nurses are also being activated by the state to help “however they can help getting shots into arms.”
DeSantis called the next two months “crunch time.”
“Let me be clear on one important point,” DeSantis said. “Hospitals that do not do a good of getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job of getting the vaccine out. We do not want the vaccine to be just idle in some hospital system.”
DeSantis is also planning to expand a pilot program in Escambia County that his team considers a success. State health workers will bring vaccines to churches in underserved communities to get people to show up in those places after vaccinating 500 people at churches in the Panhandle.
The governor will also open all state facilities for vaccinations seven days a week and called on hospitals to do the same.
“I just think it is going to be easier for people. It will be more opportunity for people to get in and get vaccinated,” DeSantis told the media.
This effort to go full bore in vaccinating seniors covers just a portion of Floridians. When asked who would be next, the governor knows who he wants but remains uncertain on the timeline.
“Almost assuredly, we would probably go to the workforce next and I think the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is the way to do that. You literally could drop a bunch of vaccines at Disney, Orange County Schools, wherever, and they could knock that out pretty quickly. And it’s one dose,” DeSantis said.
The key will be Johnson and Johnson and their efforts to get an Emergency Use Authorization for their vaccine that DeSantis said he is excited about.
“A one-dose vaccine produced to scale, that is where I think you can get in easier to folks who are in the workforce,” he said, noting that teachers could get that shot at schools.
He isn’t putting them in front of anyone though apparently, when asked, expanding the phrase “essential worker”.
“Obviously I think things like teachers are very important, all this stuff, but I view people that are earning a living and putting food on their table as essential because it is essential to their family, and so we want to make it as widely available to the workforce,” DeSantis said.
Johnson and Johnson may not go before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until early March for its version of the vaccine, meaning it could be 9 weeks or more before it would arrive in Florida. Still, DeSantis remains bullish.
“2021 is going to be brighter, and I think this vaccine is providing a lot of hope to a lot of people,” the governor said.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.