DeSantis says vaccines are best tool against Covid; but how’s FL doing on the vaccination front?

By LAURA CASSELS AND DIANE RADO , Florida Phoenix, August 30, 2021

Back in December, Gov. Ron DeSantis prioritized the elderly population for COVID-19 vaccines, a strategy that went against the status quo and pushed for seniors to get the shots first.

Eight months later, CDC data show that 82.1 percent of Florida residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated, slightly higher than the national average. Florida ranks 26th of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

That means 25 other states did better when it came to vaccinating the elderly, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Northeast states such as Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut are in the 90-percent-and-higher category for residents age 65 and older who are fully vaccinated in their states. Those are smaller-population states with fewer vaccine doses, but even some big states show higher percentages than Florida.

In Pennsylvania, 85.9 percent of 65+ residents have been fully vaccinated; New York’s number is 82.4 percent. New Jersey is at  85 percent, and Ohio had a slightly higher figure than Florida.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday continued to traverse the state to raise awareness of monoclonal antibodies therapy being offered as a COVID treatment for free at 21 sites in Florida and counting.

But while the governor focused on promoting treatment after a person becomes ill, he also reminded listeners that vaccination is the best tool for avoiding infection and fighting the spread.

He did not mention masking — and no one visible in broadcasts of his three indoor press conferences was wearing a face mask or practicing significant distancing.

DeSantis said getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect oneself from the Delta-variant wave of COVID raging in Florida, but he recommended monoclonal antibodies therapy for people who get sick from not getting vaccinated or from contracting the more transmissible Delta variant in “breakthrough” cases that overcome currently available vaccine protection. (Booster shots are just becoming available on a limited basis).

“If you’re at risk, the best thing you can do beforehand, obviously, is to get vaccinated. But even if you are, and if you’re not, if you do become COVID-positive, you have an opportunity to get early treatment using these monoclonal antibodies,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tampa.

“This is not in lieu of [vaccination]. It’s in addition to.”

The three press conferences featured testimonials from COVID patients who said they were successfully treated with monoclonal antibodies, including Toma Dean, a Jacksonville woman seen in a widely circulated photograph lying crumpled on the floor after arriving at a clinic site to be treated. Dean did not mention her vaccination status.

But overall, with vaccine shots widely available, Florida is at 52.6 percent for total population fully vaccinated.

Florida ranks 22nd among the states and the District of Columbia in that category. Florida is among 25 states and the District of Columbia in terms those states that 50 percent and higher.

Vermont, at 67.8 percent, has the highest figure for the percent of the total population fully vaccinated. The lowest figure is Mississippi, at 37.7 percent.

DeSantis also said COVID hospitalizations and visits to emergency departments have begun to decline, suggesting early treatment with monoclonal antibodies may be helping with that.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of monoclonal antibodies therapy under an emergency authorization.  Some but not all brands have been shown to reduce the severity of infections and improve recovery times even in Delta-variant cases. The therapy does not keep people infected with COVID from transmitting it.