Florida will ‘work like hell’ to get COVID-19 vaccine to elderly residents, governor says

First seniors in The Villages receive shots

Speaking in The Villages Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his stance that Florida’s elderly residents should be next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents are inoculated.

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Speaking in The Villages Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his stance that Florida’s elderly residents should be next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents are inoculated.

A few senior citizens in the Central Florida retirement community were among the first in the state to receive the shots during the news conference.

“The politicians are getting it, so it must be safe,” said Richard Cole.

He and his wife Barbara said they got a call on Monday night asking them if they would like to receive the Pfizer vaccine at DeSantis’ event.

Cole -- a former member of the Villages Regional Hospital Advisory Board -- agreed.

“We will still be wearing masks and following all the precautions because although we may not be susceptible, other people are,” he said.

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DeSantis said the general elderly population may have to wait until the vaccine is more widely available. He didn’t give an exact timeline on when those older residents who are not in long-term care facilities will have access to the shots and he didn’t provide an explanation as to what age is considered elderly.

“So we are hoping that with the allocation coming up for the coming week that the bulk of that will be able to be devoted to elderly people. Now this is hundreds of thousands, which is a lot, but you know you know the numbers there. We’re also working with the hospitals about efficient delivery. Now once they get through their health care workers, they obviously already have some system in place to be able to vaccinate people so I think you’ll see some of them will be reaching out to the community. As I mentioned, we’re probably going to do some community pods, working with some of the state health, the county health departments and so you’ll start to see that. So I would just say, if you’re in the elderly population this is coming soon,” DeSantis said.

He said the state received 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week and of that, 60,000 doses were set aside for Walgreens and CVS to vaccinate residents in assisted living facilities, an effort that’s already underway.

With Seminole County leaders set to receive a shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, leaders there said they’re confident that they can distribute the shots in a safe and efficient way.

Florida also received another 127,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week and by Tuesday evening it should get 367,000 doses of the Moderna formula.

With about 4.4 million residents over 65 and 3.12 million over 75, according to the governor, it will take time to administer the shots to every elderly resident who would like one.

“What I would say to the elderly population: It’s going to be reserved for you. Not everyone’s going to be able to do it on day one, it’s going to take some time to be able to make sure everybody has access,” DeSantis said.

He said he expects the state to make “huge progress” on the initiative in the next six to eight weeks.

The governor also honed in on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that essential workers such as grocery store and food service employees have the shots available at the same time as the elderly population.

DeSantis said that won’t happen in Florida.

“As we get into the general community, the vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is the greatest and that is in our elderly population. We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population,” the governor said.

He said because the elderly are more at risk, the state’s hospitalizations and deaths should decrease once those residents are vaccinated. Initially, there were talks of including younger residents will pre-existing conditions in that high-priority group but the governor said that would be too complicated to execute quickly.

“We’re saying the elderly are higher risk, we’re focusing on the elderly. It is absolutely true that if you’re 40, you could have some comorbidities,” DeSantis said. “The problem is: How do you administer that? And, you know, do you want to have the hospitals having to slice and dice everyone’s comorbidity?”

He said he should have more details on the plan to vaccinate the elderly population “shortly.”

“I think the top line for today is given that there’s some confusion about who should be kind of in line first -- some say some of the younger workers -- we want to be clear in Florida: We’ve got to put our parents and grandparents first and that’s what we’re going to be doing. And we’re going to work like hell to be able to get all the vaccine out to elderly who want it,” DeSantis said.

About the Authors:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.