SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – To kick off the new year and the state’s fourth week of administering COVID-19 vaccines, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans on Monday to double down on vaccination efforts statewide.
So far, more than 255,000 people have been vaccinated in Florida since shots began being administered last month, according to the Florida Department of Health’s most recent daily COVID-19 vaccine report. DeSantis wants that number to grow significantly in the coming weeks and, during a news conference Monday at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, he shared how he intends to make that happen with four new vaccine initiatives.
[INTERACTIVE MAP: COVID-19 vaccine sites in Central Florida]
DeSantis said hospitals will be critical to the state’s vaccination efforts. Hospitals that are churning out shots faster will receive more doses, he said.
“If you have hospitals like Jackson (Memorial Hospital), that are meeting or exceeding their targets then we’re going to send them more vaccine,” DeSantis said. “If you have other hospitals that are not using it, then future distributions will be reduced accordingly. We don’t want vaccine being idle we want folks to be able to use it and get it into people’s arms particularly our most vulnerable population.”
First, the governor said he’s directed the Division of Emergency Management to work with the Florida Department of Health to identify state run COVID-19 testing sites that can be converted into vaccine sites.
“So these are sites that are generally pretty large, have a lot of parking capacity, have drive-thru capacity and, you know, we’ve shipped a lot of vaccine to long-term care facilities, all the major hospitals in the state, county health departments,” DeSantis said. “We (now) need to add additional layers to the vaccination strategy. We believe we’ll have enough doses to be able to do that. And while we may not be able to open all the sites we want to right at the start based on supply, you know, we do think that there’s going to be enough supply to establish some additional locations so we’re going to have more announcements on that this week.”
Later in the day, at another news conference in Miami, DeSantis acknowledge the vaccination process is still a work in progress.
“This is a very difficult logistical operation I’m not going to say that there have not been any problems. But I think all in all, you know, the distribution has gone, probably better than than what would be reasonably expected,” the governor said when asked about problems with the rollout.
The governor also said that the state of Florida will be identifying places of worship in underserved communities where officials can administer the vaccine to those who might not otherwise have access to it.
DeSantis said that idea was piloted at a church in Escambia County in Northwest Florida and it was “a great success.”
“We were able to vaccinate over 500 seniors and also have them scheduled for their booster shot, which they will then receive at the same location when that time comes, so you’re going to see this approach all over the state and we’ll be making more announcements on that very shortly,” DeSantis said.
The governor also announced on Monday that he has directed the Division of Emergency Management to activate existing contracts for 1,000 additional nurses to support vaccination efforts.
“We’re going to deploy them throughout the state to help vaccination sites, public sites that the state may run, we may even help if a hospital is short-handed,” DeSantis said. “Basically, however they can help facilitate shots getting in people’s arms, we want those nurses to be able to do that.”
According to the governor, the additional nurses will supplement the hundreds of National Guard members and strike teams who have already assisted with vaccination efforts.
Finally, the governor said Monday that he’s directing the state emergency response team to assume additional responsibilities regarding administering vaccines in Florida’s nearly 4,000 long-term care facilities. Those individuals were set to be vaccinated by CVS and Walgreens as part of an agreement with the federal government.
“We want to accelerate that pace,” DeSantis said. “We believe, vaccinations: the sooner the better. And so there’s no time to waste, so you’re gonna see more state effort, additional state effort than what we’ve already done, which has been significant in those facilities.”
In addition to the new plans the governor shared Monday, DeSantis said he has also ordered that any state-run site expand operations to seven days a week. He has also asked hospitals that are administering the shots throughout the state, like Orlando Health, to expand their operations as well.
“I just think it’s going to be easier for people, it’ll be more opportunity for people to be able to get in and get vaccinated, and we really view, particularly, you know, these these next two months as really ‘crunch time.’ So anything the state’s doing, it’s going to be seven days a week,” he said.
Among those to receive the vaccines so far are Florida’s frontline health care workers, residents and employees of long-term care facilities and, most recently, the state’s residents who are 65 and older, all of whom are considered members of vaccine priority groups in Florida.
Vaccine distribution is being prioritized to certain people as the shots are still not widely available. Therefore, officials have chosen to vaccinate those considered most vulnerable first.
On Monday, Orlando Health expanded its vaccination program to reach more members of the community.
Orlando Health vaccination events are now open to:
- All frontline health care professionals not affiliated with Orlando Health (including dental staffs and EMS).
- Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities who have been unable to get vaccinated.
- Orlando Health team members, medical staff family members and loved ones who are age 65 or older.
- Orlando Health team members and medical staff members who have not yet received the first dose of the vaccine.
Scheduling is required to receive the free Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. To make an appointment, which is available on a first-come, first-served basis, individuals should visit https://vaccine.orlandohealth.com. Walk-ups will not be accepted.
Appointments became available beginning Jan. 4 at the following Orlando Health facilities:
- Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips Hospital.
- Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies
- Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital.
- Orlando Health - Health Central Hospital.
- Orlando Health South Lake Hospital.
- Orlando Health St. Cloud Hospital.
- Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
As of Monday night, all appointments were fully booked but the hospital will open more when it receives additional doses.
Orlando Health recently updated its website with plans to expand criteria even more in hopes up offering the shots to additional members of the community.
According to the website, beginning Jan. 11, Orlando Health will again extend its vaccine reach by inviting patients of the health care system to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they are:
- 65 or older.
- At increased risk due to chronic medical conditions.
The governor said as the state receives more vaccines, more will be sent to hospitals throughout Florida. Hospitals that aren’t administering as many shots as others could lose their supply to hospitals where the vaccine demand appears to be greater, according to the governor.
“What we’ve done is we’ve asked all the hospitals who are getting vaccines to submit to us, how they plan to offer vaccinations to the community, especially, of course, our senior citizens,” DeSantis said. “And I want to be very clear on one important point: Hospitals that do not do a good job of getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job and getting the vaccine out. We do not want vaccine to just be idle at some hospital system.”
The governor said during Monday’s briefing that the next group to receive the vaccine will likely be the workforce and he believes the best way to administer the vaccine to members of that group would be using Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which has not yet been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
The governor specifically mentioned the possibility of vaccinations for Disney cast members and Orange County Public Schools employees.
“I think the reason why, like, a teachers would be great is because you have them all at the school. I think you could knock it out very quickly. So from an efficiency standpoint, I think would be great. We have obviously other major employers in Florida, where I think they would be able to knock it out very, very quickly, so that’s coming,” the governor said.
DeSantis said how soon that could happen depends on the number of Florida’s 4.4 million seniors and members of other priority groups who get vaccinated before then.
He also encouraged Floridians to keep an eye out for Johnson & Johnson vaccine updates.
“I really think that the key to this for really doing well in the workforce is this Johnson & Johnson, the one-dose. It makes it so much easier when you’re talking about workforce, to be able to get that done so that’s going to be our hope. I would just say, monitor this, we’re gonna get news on Johnson & Johnson very soon and I think it’s going to be good news. And I think that that will give us another arrow in the quiver, you know, as we continue to do this vaccination march,” DeSantis said.