ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida is working to expand its vaccination efforts Wednesday to make sure a majority of its elderly population gets the shot.
Speaking from Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, the governor said the state is working to make sure Florida is consistently receiving shipments of a coronavirus vaccine and quickly putting them to use.
“(We’re) making sure the vaccine is distributed in places that are using it most effectively,” he said. “So we have pulled back from places.”
DeSantis said the state had adopted a “use it quickly or lose it” approach when it comes to distributing the vaccine. In cases where hospitals say it will take more than a week to get through their supply, the state has decided to re-distribute the vaccine to other sites where there is a lack of a vaccine or a higher demand for it. He said his goal is to get the vaccine out there in the short-term to continue vaccinating Florida’s most vulnerable population as quickly as possible.
The state’s overall strategy is to vaccinate the millions of seniors that live in Florida.
“We have 4.4 million people that are 65 and over, we do not have 4.4 million vaccines. We don’t even have a million vaccines at this point,” DeSantis said. “So the demand has outstripped the supply.”
The governor said short-term vaccination events like the one he was attending in Escambia County will become more common. He encouraged other health care systems and health departments to host one or two-day events at local community centers or makeshift sites for further outreach. Central Florida has seen similar events with Seminole County’s mobile unit and Volusia County’s drive-up vaccination opportunities.
When asked about the state’s involvement in vaccine distribution plans, he once again pointed to health departments and hospitals saying they are the most equipped to decide the best strategy for their area. He added the state is scaling up its plans, asking hospitals to organize sites to further vaccinate those 65 and older.
“Now these hospital-run vaccination sites are part of our next steps in order to reach our seniors throughout the community. Hospitals serve as the pillars to our strategy,” the governor said.
Now joining the state’s strategy is Florida-based Publix. The pharmacy and grocery store is expected to open registration for appointments Thursday, two days after the governor announced the vaccination partnership.
With Publix expected to roll out its first round of shots in Marion, Citrus and Hernando counties Friday, the governor said it will be keeping a close eye on how the logistics work to hopefully expand the program in the coming weeks.
[WATCH: Select Publix pharmacies will offer vaccine shots in Florida]
“There’s some folks who just don’t want to go into the hospital but they are going to grocery stores,” the governor said, adding that providing the shots in common areas will help Florida’s mission of vaccinating the senior population that much more attainable.
As the governor was questioned about the challenges the 65 and older population face booking appointments, such as disseminating information to the communities and technological inequity, he mildly addressed the question saying the real issue was the high demand for the vaccine.
“I think it’s a totally valid concern,” he said. “And we’re working on helping people address it but I also think some of that is just the fact that it’s going to take some time to get enough vaccine to meet the demand. I don’t think it’s going to take, you know, months, but I think every week we’ll get more and then more.”
DeSantis highlighted that so far, the state’s strategy is working as Florida Department of Health data shows that a majority of people who have received the vaccine are in the 65 to 74 age bracket.
“You’re going to continue to see those senior numbers grow,” he said.
Though the data looks promising, he said the state will continue to work diligently to make sure the numbers are at a higher threshold.
“I want to see the shots to be predominantly in the older groups,” he said. “We want them overrepresented in the shots and that’s what we’re going to be working on as I move forward.”