DeSantis rolls out Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Barefoot Bay

Governor says Florida won’t do lockdowns

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference at Concordia Lutheran Church in Barefoot Bay on March 12, 2021 to discuss more opportunities for residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Joining him were State Rep. Randy Fine, Senator Debbie Mayfield, State Rep. Tyler Sirois and Richard Still, incident coordinator for Region 5. (MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Brevard County on Friday to announce a COVID-19 vaccination pop-up site in Barefoot Bay, where thousands of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are set to be administered to area residents over the weekend, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Up to 4,000 doses of the new single-shot vaccine were expected to be given between Friday and Monday, DeSantis said.

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The Barefoot Bay site, located at Concordia Lutheran Church, is among the first to make use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the first shipment of which arrived in Florida late last week. Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson shot requires only a single dose to be considered fully effective.

“When you do a site like this, you don’t gotta come back in 21 or 28 days. All of our other sites we’ve done, you’ve got to come back. Now that we’re using J&J, it’s going to be really, really good,” DeSantis said.

The senior living community, located in South Brevard, was selected to beef up the county’s lagging vaccinations numbers for older adults, which DeSantis said was hovering around 53% of 65-and-older population Friday compared to over 60% statewide.

“We really believe this site here can help get Brevard with 60% of the seniors having shots,” he said.

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has so far shown to be less effective overall at preventing symptoms than its double-dose competitors, in a recent analysis the Food and Drug Administration said it was 85% effective at preventing serious illness and 100% effective at preventing death, a result that DeSantis touted Friday.

Experts say it is hard to directly compare the effectiveness of the different vaccines because they were tested at different times and in different countries. The bottom line, those experts say, is that it is very effective in preventing serious illness or death.

“(That’s) really the name of the game,” he said. “Technically less, quote, effective at preventing mild infection, but honestly ... we deal with those all the time in different types of viruses.”

The hours for the site are:

  • Friday, March 12 - 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Saturday March 13 – 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
  • Sunday, March 14 – Noon to 7 p.m.
  • Monday, March 15 - 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

DeSantis has established similar pop-up sites across the state since December. The efforts have targeted areas with high concentrations of older adults, in counties whose vaccinations efforts for seniors DeSantis said had lagged behind others in Florida.

Some of the sites have been attacked as politically motivated by critics. A pop-up site in Manatee County drew controversy last month when shots were limited to residents of two wealthy neighborhoods, one of which had ties to a major DeSantis political donor.

In town for a brief stop on his statewide “Seniors First” tour, DeSantis gave updates Friday on the status of vaccination numbers for older adults across the state and the expansion of vaccine availability at retail pharmacies like Publix and CVS.

He took the opportunity to clap back at President Joe Biden’s warning Thursday that the U.S. may have to revisit COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns, if numbers don’t continue to decline heading into the summer.

“I can tell you, that ain’t happening in Florida,” DeSantis said. “We’re not going to let him lock down Florida. I know they talked about restricting travel of Floridians. That’s totally unacceptable.”

“We like the fact that people are able to work here. We like the fact that we’ve been able to save thousands of businesses and save people’s livelihoods,” he said. “We’re going to continue doing what works.”

For the second time this week, DeSantis also bemoaned Florida’s slice of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package passed this week by the U.S. Congress, which he called “fundamentally unfair.”

“We were treated very poorly in the stimulus” relative to states like California, New York and New Jersey, where unemployment rates remained high,” DeSantis said. “They locked down. It wasn’t effective. They have a higher COVID mortality.”

“We’re going to end up getting about $2 billion less than if they had just done a per-capita distribution,” he said. “We actually had to make tough decisions. ... For them to turn around and take billions of dollars from Florida and send it to these other states, that’s not the way to do it.”

The governor has been slowly expanding access to the vaccine.

Floridians over 60 will be eligible for the vaccine starting March 15. On Friday, the governor repeated his intention to open the vaccine to those over 55 this month, and to all state residents by the end of April, depending on supply.

Florida’s vaccine rollout has drawn scrutiny from in and out of the state. Critics blasted DeSantis for ignoring federal recommendations to prioritize frontline essential workers, and for a hands-off approach to distribution that overtaxed local health departments.

He has defended his strategy, which gave priority to state residents over 65, as key for reducing deaths among Florida’s large elderly population.

While those over 65 are at elevated risk compared to the youngest age categories, COVID-19 mortality increases exponentially with age. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the highest risk categories at 75 and above.

By Thursday, about 3.9 million Floridians (or 18.91% of the state population) had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those, about 2.1 million had been fully vaccinated.