Florida expands vaccine access to teachers, first responders 50 and older

Florida could receive 175,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order expanding eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine across the state of Florida to include law enforcement officers who are 50 and older, firefighters 50 and older and K-12 school personnel 50 and older.

The governor announced the executive order during a news briefing in Tallahassee on Monday.

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The governor credited the expansion to the Emergency Use Authorization of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which was approved by the FDA Sunday.

“We don’t know exactly how much, but tentatively, the numbers that we’re looking at for Johnson and Johnson shipment to Florida this week is 175,000 doses now that has not been confirmed yet but we hope it will be very very soon,” DeSantis said.

Some Floridians are confused about current requirements after the state expanded its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility.

Read the new executive order here.

The governor said he believes all of the people who fall into this expanded eligibility may be able to get vaccinated with the initial shipment of the J&J vaccine.

“We probably could do all of that 50 up K-12 personnel and police, fire, with just our J&J shipment,” DeSantis said.

However, he stopped short of saying that the shipment would be specifically allocated for that purpose.

“There’s an argument that J&J may even be better for some people but, at a minimum, what I would say is if you have an opportunity to take the J&J, take the J&J,” DeSantis said.

Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teacher’s Association, said she appreciates the new guidelines that include more teachers but says she believes all teachers should be vaccinated.

“Of course we appreciate every step, baby steps are good, but we need a giant step here,” Doromal said.

This new expansion comes after DeSantis signed another executive order on Friday, expanding vaccine eligibility to include people who hospitals and physicians deem “extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.”

A Central Florida doctor wants more guidance from the state on who is considered "extremely vulnerable" to COVID-19.

“This is a huge expansion of access to the covid vaccine to medically vulnerable people under 65,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith of Orlando. “If you are medically vulnerable to COVID, younger than 65 with a doctor’s note, you are eligible to get the vaccine.”

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Franc Cadet at Orange Blossom Family in Orlando said he hasn’t gotten any guidance from the state on guidelines to vaccinate people considered extremely vulnerable.

“Is it one chronic condition, is it multiple chronic conditions, is it just a doctor’s note saying I have one chronic condition of hypertension I need the vaccine. That’s what I’m concerned about,” Cadet said. “We definitely need more information, more guidance when it comes to people with chronic conditions.”

Cadet said he appreciates the push to get more people vaccinated, but he fears seniors who want the vaccine may miss out.

“I’m concerned about the seniors who may miss out, the rest of the seniors 65 and up,” Cadet said.

The executive order’s announcement came after the governor and several state lawmakers announced plans for legislation targeting China and other foreign governments that may seek to steal intellectual property from Florida-based businesses and research institutes.

“Chinese Communist Party has made it a mission of their global expansion of power to steal intellectual property from our businesses, our government and our academic institutions,” DeSantis said.

Those bills will be debated during the 2021 legislative session which began on Monday in Tallahassee.

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino described the process of vaccinating the new group.

“We have to verify age, we have to verify residence, and now we have to verify if they are a firefighter if they are law enforcement and they are employed with the school,” Pino said.

Alan Harris with Seminole County Emergency Management explains how prepared the county is to vaccinate this new group.

“We have been planning for this activity to take place. Part of our planning was always to do an afternoon-evening event so next week we will launch some afternoon evening events for those individuals who are 50 or older and meet the criteria,” Harris said.

Scott Howat with OCPS shared how many newly eligible school staff qualify to get a vaccine within the district

“So 9,542 would be eligible,” Howat said.

About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.