Floridians age 50 and up will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine beginning Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced during a news conference Friday morning.
DeSantis had dropped the age to 60 this week but said demand had been relatively modest, so he opted to drop it to 50, rather than 55 and “see how it goes” next week.
“Quite frankly, we think that even on current vaccine allotments, that opening it up will be good,” DeSantis said. “We think that this makes sense.”
Florida is also vaccinating health care workers and first responders over 50 already.
DeSantis said nearly 70% of Florida’s senior citizens have been vaccinated. As of Friday morning, Florida had reported nearly 7 million persons have been vaccinated. More than 4.5 million have been fully vaccinated.
DeSantis also indicated that Florida will be well ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of opening vaccines to all eligible adults by May 1.
“Maybe much sooner than that,” DeSantis said. “Stay tuned there.”
The federally run Gateway Mall site in Jacksonville is expected to be open until May 3 but announced Friday that it and the satellite sites will stop giving first dose shots next week.
Vaccination appointments are also available at most Publix and Walmart pharmacies and some Winn-Dixie, CVS and Walmart stores. Visit myvaccine.fl.gov to find a site near you.
DeSantis and emergency management Director Jared Moskowitzalso went over steps the state has taken to get “shots in arms” of residents.
Part of that continuing effort will be increasing outreach to underserved and minority communities.
Since the first pilot launched, the state’s faith-based outreach program targeting minority communities has vaccinated 70,000 people at 215 houses of worship.
“Florida has been the model for how you partner with the faith based community and in fact they’re trying to roll that out in other places in other states,” Moskowitz said.
Starting next week, nine more vaccination sites in minority communities will launch.
Within the next two weeks, mobile units severing minority communities will increase from three buses to 15.
“All these different outreach efforts, all these different pockets, each one obviously helps try to increase shots in arms,” said Moskowitz.
Moskowitz said part of the state’s strategy is branching off smaller “spokes” from main vaccine sites to penetrate deeper into communities.
He reported almost 50% of people using those sites are Black and brown Floridians.
The state has also knocked on 35,000 doors in minority communities, in some cases even offering a shot on the spot, but vaccine hesitancy remains an issue.
“We’re finding it’s about a ten percent conversion rate. And you know that’s why it’s hard to do these things as far as with speed,” said Moskowitz.
Rev. Dr. RB Holmes heads a statewide task force of pastors attempting to break through some of the barriers.
“The numbers not where I think they ought to be, but it’s not because we’re not trying,” said Holmes.
He believes persistence is key.
“We just gotta tell folks that these vaccines are safe, they will save lives, but we just can’t give up,” said Holmes.
Black Floridians make up only about 6% of those vaccinated so far.
The ultimate goal is to vaccinate 70% of Florida’s Black community, and while meeting that goal will be a challenge, Holmes said the state’s efforts are headed in the right direction.
DeSantis’ announcement Friday came after some local officials said they planned to lower the age threshold to 50, or, in the case of Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, to 40.
DeSantis bristled when asked about the Orange County plans, saying “it’s not his decision to make.” He then called on Demings to do more to vaccinate older residents, saying that Orange County has only vaccinated about 63% of people age 65 or older.
Starting Monday, Florida residents 60 years old and older were able to receive the vaccine at pharmacies and state-supported sites.
DeSantis, who has received criticism for not publishing a step-by-step plan for the vaccine rollout, has been reluctant to give a timetable for changes.
The demand from seniors in Florida is decreasing and the federal vaccination sites throughout the state continue to see a low turnout of eligible people.
Less than two-thirds of the available supply at government-run sites in Jacksonville have been used over the last two weeks, data show.
The News Service of Florida and Associated Press contributed to this report