JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While a coronavirus vaccine has not yet been approved, Florida is prepared to distribute initial doses to 4,000 long-term care facilities throughout the state once it’s ready, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday.
DeSantis said he spoke on Tuesday with top pharmacists for CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens involved with Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to accelerate the approval and distribution of a vaccine. He said the executives told him they’re ready to deliver initial doses of the vaccine to long-term care facilities once it receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration and becomes available.
“Fortunately, more than 3,000 long-term care facilities have already signed up,” DeSantis said. “And our goal will be to provide vaccines to every resident of long-term care facilities throughout the state.”
The preparations come as multiple vaccines race toward FDA approval. The FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is set to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the request for emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. And the governor said he expects the FDA to review a vaccine from Moderna not long after that. Preliminary data show both vaccines are 94% effective.
The governor’s announcement was made as the state grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases. With more than 950,000 positive tests since the pandemic began, Florida is on pace to soon become the third state to reach 1 million cases.
In his remarks, DeSantis acknowledged an estimated 40 million doses of the vaccine will be ready for consumption nationwide by the end of December. And with each vaccine requiring an individual to take two doses, he anticipates there will only be enough to vaccinate roughly 20 million Americans at first. As a result, he said, the state will prioritize delivery of the vaccine based on who’s most at risk – beginning with elderly residents of long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers.
“As more vaccine becomes available, we of course are going to want to get that into the broader senior community first, and then into the broader community at large,” the governor said. “But as we anxiously await the vaccine, I think it’s important to double down on protecting our most vulnerable, particularly our vulnerable seniors in long-term care facilities. If we can redouble our efforts to protect the most vulnerable until the vaccine is deployed, we will help safeguard the lives of thousands of Floridians.”
As part of the effort to protect seniors and other vulnerable patients until the vaccine is ready, DeSantis said the state has set aside 500,000 rapid tests, which long-term care facilities can use over the next few weeks to test all of their residents, staff and contractors.
The governor also announced that Regeneron, an antibody therapy meant to keep people out of the hospital, has received emergency use authorization and is making its way to hospitals throughout the state. He said that therapy “effectively doubles” the state’s supply of Bamlan, an antibody treatment from Eli Lilly, which is being administered by IV to vulnerable patients shortly after they test positive.