WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Now that Florida’s health care workers have begun receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the next step is to start vaccinating residents in long-term care facilities who could fall seriously ill if they were to contract the deadly respiratory virus.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that he expects those efforts to begin as early as Wednesday. He said he’ll provide more details on that initiative at that time.
“It’s very, very significant that we provide vaccinations to anyone at a nursing home who wants it. Obviously they are the most at risk from most infections but certainly this one as well,” DeSantis said.
Nursing homes and other similar facilities were closed to visitors in March when COVID-19 cases first began popping up in the Sunshine State. That ban was lifted in September but the governor said mitigation efforts have reduced the quality of life for those residents.
“This has such a huge impact because of all the mitigation that goes on, they haven’t really been able to have, I think, a full ability to thrive over these many months. Now we’ve made sure they can have visitors and we’ve supported all that but it’s just not going to be the same until we get the vaccinations into those facilities and so we’re going to start that process tomorrow. We’ve got thousands of facilities in Florida, it’s not as easy as it would be in some smaller state,” DeSantis said.
About 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Florida received this week will go to hospitals so they can inoculate their front line workers while another 60,000 will go to CVS and Walgreens to be administered at long-term care facilities. The state is also expected to receive an additional 20,000 doses to help with vaccination efforts in long-term care facilities.
Once those two target populations receive their first doses, the state will then shift to focusing on elderly residents who are not in long-term care facilities but who could still develop a severe COVID-19 infection.
DeSantis thinks it won’t be until about February before the vaccine is available to the general public, although that depends on when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna, it’s only one dose... the Johnson & Johnson is just normal refrigeration and you take it one time. That makes it easier to do on a mass scale because you can go and school districts can offer it to the teachers and once you give the shot, you don’t have to worry about going back,” DeSantis said.
He expects Johnson & Johnson to seek emergency use authorization in late January and, if approved, the first doses would be shipped out shortly thereafter.
The governor also reiterated that vaccination won’t be mandated, but he believes many Floridians will choose to get the shot.
“So I think it’s something that people should have competence in. At the same time, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone who may not be terribly at risk to say, ‘OK well, you know, even if it was available to me, maybe I’ll wait.’ I understand why some someone wants to do that. Your higher risk, I think you probably want to get it as soon as possible,” DeSantis said.