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‘Write your congressmen and your senators,’ DeSantis tells seniors waiting for COVID-19 vaccine

Demand outweighs vaccine supply from federal government, Florida governor says

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2020, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asks Vera Leip, 88, how she feels after nurse Christine Philips, left, administered the Pfizer vaccine at John Knox Village, in Pompano Beach, Fla. DeSantis is walking back his claims that his state has now vaccinated 1 million seniors. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida is leading the nation in its efforts to get seniors vaccinated against the novel coronavirus but still, he says the state isn’t vaccinating as many people as it could be.

The governor said during a news conference at a nursing home in Jacksonville Monday that roughly 22% of all Florida seniors age 65 and older have received a COVID-19 shot and that the number is likely higher due to delays in reporting vaccination data. The latest daily report from the Florida Department of Health shows more than 940,000 people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated in Florida. The governor said another 50,000-80,000 shots could be administered on Monday.

“We have done more senior vaccinations 65 and up than any other state in the country, and it’s not even close. We are hundreds of thousands [of shots] ahead of our our next closest competitor, which is good,” DeSantis said.

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The governor touted the state’s efforts to get seniors vaccinated but said more could be done. Some seniors in Florida have been unsuccessful in trying to get vaccinated, specifically those not living in long-term care facilities, where the federal government and state have partnered to get residents and staff vaccinated quickly.

During the news conference, a reporter asked the governor what he would tell those senior Floridians who are frustrated because they’ve had trouble getting access to the vaccine.

“Write your congressman and your senators and tell them, you know, talk to the administration, have them send more Pfizer and Moderna [vaccines] to the states. And we will be able to do that many more. But we’re at the mercy of what the federal government sends us and right now, we’re able to go through it quicker than what we’re receiving in it,” the governor said.

At a White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against DeSantis’ comments criticizing the federal government, saying Florida has only administered about half of the vaccines it has been given.

“They have only distributed about 50% of the vaccines that they have been given,” she said. “Clearly they have a good deal of the vaccine.”

Data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 53% of the doses the state has been supplied so far has been administered. But there can be a lag in the federal data, as health care providers report doses up to 72 hours after they have been administered.

Florida’s rate of vaccine administration versus distribution mirrors the national figure, also at around 53%. It’s higher than California’s 45%, but lower than New York’s 57%, according to the CDC.

DeSantis said Florida has received, on average, 250,000-260,000 vaccines per week since the vaccine rollout began in December. According to the governor, there was only one week that Florida received more than 300,000 shots. He said around Christmas time, Florida received about 500,000 vaccines between the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

“We are telling the federal government, they -- they’re in control of this -- we don’t have a big cache sitting around at the state, we only get what they send us, the sole focus for the federal government should be increasing the number of doses available for the states,” DeSantis said. “We know we want everyone to use all the first doses they have, don’t keep them on the shelf, put it in seniors’ arms, absolutely. But if we’re ... capable of doing 450,000 to 500,000 first doses and we’re only getting 266,000, you’re gonna see that there’s going to be shortages very quickly. So our capacity far outstrips what we’re being given by the feds.”

The governor said Florida officials were told weeks ago to expect increases in the number of doses in their shipments but they have yet to see that happen.

“We haven’t seen it,” he said. “We’ve been very stagnant this whole month.”

The governor said on Monday that 97% of all skilled nursing home facilities have at least one vaccinated resident or staff member and the remaining will be finished by the end of the month. He said at least one resident has been vaccinated at more than 2,000 of Florida’s long-term care facilities, something state strike teams and CVS Walgreens, through a partnership with the federal government, have made possible since vaccine rollout began.

CVS and Walgreens will no longer be part of those inoculations, according to an update from the state Agency for Health Care Administration. Beginning Jan. 23, vaccinations at LTCs were taken over by a state-run program.

According to AHCA memo sent on Jan. 7, CDR Health was brought in to help the pharmacies with vaccination efforts prior to taking over all appointments.

On Monday, DeSantis said CDR Health was contracted because “time is of the essence” to vaccinate all 4,000 facilities.

Right now, anyone hoping to get vaccinated must be able to prove at least part-time residency and show they are a member of the priority groups currently allowed to get vaccinated for COVID-19: health care workers, long-term care facility staff and residents and people 65 or older.

According to an advisory signed last week by Florida’s surgeon general, before administering the first dose of the vaccine, every vaccine provider in the state should make sure the recipient is either a resident of Florida or an individual who is in Florida to provide health care services that require direct contact with patients.

Click here for details on how to register for a vaccine Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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