‘We don’t believe it’s time to rest’: DeSantis cracks down on COVID vaccine plans; critics concerned

By Issac Morgan , Florida Phoenix, January 4, 2021

Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to ramp up COVID vaccine distribution in the state by adding community sites such as churches and other state-run facilities, while putting pressure on Florida hospitals to administer vaccines quickly. “We don’t believe it’s time to rest,” DeSantis said at press conference Monday at the Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital. About 80 percent of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed through Florida hospitals, DeSantis said. “We really view the hospitals as the front line of this,” he said.

But he warned that those hospitals in the state that don’t “do a good job of getting the vaccine out” will see a reduction of vaccine doses — and those vaccines would be transferred to hospitals that are administering them quickly. “We do not want vaccines just to be idle at some hospital system,” he said.

DeSantis has been prioritizing the vaccinations for seniors 65 and older. That said, nearly 4.5-million people are 65 and older in Florida, according to U.S. Census data. So far, 77,472 people aged 65 and older have gotten the shots, the Florida Department of Health reported Monday. Overall, 260,655 people have been vaccinated, the department said. That includes frontline health care workers.

The Florida Democratic Party was critical of the state’s initial vaccine rollout, calling it a “failed vaccine rollout,” with DeSantis shifting the blame to others. “Instead of taking responsibility for the disastrous rollout, Governor DeSantis is blaming hospitals and doctors for rollout problems— saying that he will take away vaccine allotments, when he is the one without a plan,” party chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement. “Meanwhile, he is also ignoring constituent complaints about impossibly long lines and confusing systems.  Floridians have a right to be outraged.”

To increase vaccine distribution, the governor said that some state-run COVID-19 test sites will be converted into vaccination sites. DeSantis also added that the state will identity certain churches and other places of worship as vaccine sites and find ways to distribute vaccines in long-term care facilities. “These are sites that are generally pretty large, have a lot of parking capacity and have drive-thru capacity…we need to add additional layers to the vaccination strategy, we believe we’ll have enough doses to do that,” he said.

DeSantis was joined by David Strong, president and CEO at Orlando Health, Dr. George Ralls, CMO at Orlando Health and others at the press conference where five people received a Moderna vaccine shot live on-camera. Those individuals inoculated included first responders and three seniors. DeSantis announced the launch of community vaccination sites at various hospitals part of Orlando Health.

“I think they’re going to be in a great groove. We have given them an allotment; they think they are going to blow through that. And we are going to give them more,” he said. The governor reiterated that vaccines will be reserved for those 65 years of age or older,  plus health care workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

“I think what we want to be clear going forward as it relates to the general public, we really believe it’s important to put our seniors first,” DeSantis said. “And that’s what we are going to be doing.”

Image Credits: Greg Lovett/AP