Some teachers, police now eligible for vaccine

Sissi Rodriguez, a pharmacy technician with AdventHealth, draws the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at Paddock Mall in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Paddock Mall, AdventHealth and the Florida Department of Health in Marion County have come together to provide the vaccinations to seniors at Paddock Mall by appointment only. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted February 23, 2021 | By Christine Sexton, Tom Urban, News Service of Florida

Sissi Rodriguez, a pharmacy technician with AdventHealth, draws the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at Paddock Mall in Ocala in this January file photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

TALLAHASSEE – Marking a significant change in Florida’s vaccination strategy, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said teachers and law enforcement officers 50 and older will have access to COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming days as four federally supported vaccination sites open in the state.

The move comes three weeks after the Marion County School Board sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis asking him to consider all district employees as essential workers for COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

While the governor’s action does not include all school employees, it would cover some area teachers.

DeSantis has for weeks pushed ahead with plans to vaccinate as many seniors 65 and older as possible. In doing so, he diverged from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to vaccinate those 75 and older and non-healthcare frontline “essential” workers, including teachers, police officers and grocery store employees during the second phase on inoculations.

During a news conference in Hialeah on Tuesday, he said newly announced Federal Emergency Management Agency-supported sites in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa, will not only offer vaccinations to people 65 and older but also to teachers and law enforcement officers.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar did not know how many teachers would qualify for the vaccines. Regardless, Spar said DeSantis’ plan doesn’t go far enough to protect teachers and said the vaccines should be available across the state, not at just four locations. The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest teachers union.

“If we truly are trying to make sure we keep everyone safe and protect the learning environment, it just makes good sense to make sure everyone who works in our schools has access to the vaccination,” Spar said.

Demand for vaccinations has outpaced supply, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined a three-phase vaccine rollout plan. DeSantis followed the first phase, issued in early December, recommending vaccinating health care workers and long-term care residents. For the second phase, however, DeSantis called for vaccinations of people 65 and older and people who hospitals deemed were high risk.

Nearly 76% of the almost 2.7 million people who have been vaccinated through Sunday in Florida were 65 or older, according to state data.

DeSantis said his administration has been preparing to get the vaccines to law enforcement officers who are 50 or older and has contacted local police departments and sheriff’s offices.

The Ocala Gazette contributed to this report.

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