State short on first doses of COVID-19 vaccines

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted January 19, 2021 | Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE As Gov. Ron DeSantis barnstorms the state announcing new COVID-19 vaccination sites, a top health-care adviser acknowledged Tuesday on a phone call with hospital officials that Florida is in a “supply-limited situation.”

Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said in the statewide phone call that he does not know when

Rae Austin, of ORMC, draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe recently. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

additional “first doses” of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be sent to the state or how many doses would be in a potential future delivery.

“At the present time, we are in pretty much a supply-limited situation,” Rivkees said. “So, as more vaccine becomes available, we will be able to determine when we can send more vaccines out to hospitals for community vaccination.”

The additional first-dose vaccines, Rivkees said, would be in addition to follow-up second dose vaccines that were delivered to hospitals late last week and early this week. Agency for Health Care Administration Acting Secretary Shevaun Harris, who joined Rivkees on the phone call, said some hospitals weren’t expected to get their second-dose deliveries until late Tuesday night due to a shipping delay.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people take two doses of COVID-19 vaccines for full protection. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be administered 21 days after the first dose, while the second dose of the Moderna vaccine can be administered as early as 24 days after the first dose.

The supply shortage comes as the numbers of coronavirus cases in the state increase and the death toll mounts. As of Tuesday, Florida reported 1,589,097 cases since the pandemic started. The death toll of Florida residents stood at 24,436, of which 8,925 were long-term care residents and staff members.

Florida Democrats also continued to mount criticism Tuesday of the state’s vaccination rollout efforts, holding an online news conference to blast DeSantis.

Rivkees said he didn’t have a timeline for when additional first doses would be delivered to the state. The Trump administration announced last week that it would change a distribution formula to allocate vaccines based on the numbers of residents age 65 and older. The federal government has based allocations on the numbers of people in the states age 18 and older.

Florida has the second-highest number of people age 65 and older, and the change in policy would benefit the state. “If that happens, we certainly will keep everyone apprised as more vaccine becomes available in the state,” Rivkees said.

The federal government had distributed 31,161,075 vaccine doses nationwide and 2,069,175 in Florida as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine tracker. Through Monday, Florida had provided 1,066,107 COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the state Department of Health.

While the vaccine remains in short supply, a CDC advisory committee initially recommended that front-line health care workers and long-term care residents and staff be vaccinated. The advisory committee then recommended that the eligibility group be expanded to include essential workers such as teachers, firefighters and certain retail workers.

DeSantis bucked that recommendation and issued an executive order Dec. 23 adding people 65 and older and health workers with direct patient contact to the list of eligible vaccine candidates. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced last week the federal government was recommending that other states do the same.

But DeSantis has acknowledged that the decision initially led to a run on supply.

During the online news conference Tuesday, Democrats criticized the governor for a flurry of appearances across the state announcing agreements with Publix supermarkets to provide vaccinations.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, acknowledged the monumental nature of the massive vaccination effort, but he pointed to a lack of communications and coordination for troubles with getting the vaccines to the public.

“You had to expect some, some problems, but the lack of information, the lack of coordination by our governor, dumping this on the county health departments and letting them come up with their own rules without any significant guidance,” Farmer said.

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, criticized DeSantis’s recent swing across the state announcing Publix locations where the vaccines will be available. As of Tuesday, 220 Publix supermarkets in 17 counties had been provided vaccines, DeSantis said.

But Cruz  noted  that the Publix supermarkets in her area had no supply for the past four days.

“There is no supply headed for this state,” Cruz said. “Yet we have a governor that’s on this PR rampage, running around as if he’s some kind of superhero with vaccinations. He’s doing a public relations run with no product and no product in sight. It is insane that we are trying to fool Floridians here.”

DeSantis returned the partisan barbs Tuesday afternoon during a news conference in Cape Coral. DeSantis, who has touted his relationship with outgoing President Donald Trump, said President-elect Joe Biden’s administration shouldn’t dictate how states administer the vaccines.

“The more bureaucracy involved in this, the worse it’s going to be,” DeSantis said.

“All we need is more vaccine — just get us more vaccine,” DeSantis added.

— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban and staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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