DeSantis promises more vaccine, locations and nurses to help

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Monday at Orlando Health in Seminole County. (WESH-TV)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccine sites and crashed county websites to make appointments for the injection, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work quickly to vaccinate folks over the age of 65.

Monday morning, 260,655 people had been vaccinated in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. With Duval and Clay counties among those beginning to do community vaccinations Monday, that number will rise quickly -- likely exceeding the state’s supply of vaccines by next week.

Most Northeast Florida counties are giving between 200 and 500 vaccines per day and most available appointments to receive a shot are already full.

Florida has received 960,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, so about 700,000 of those remain in freezers waiting to be administered.

Speaking at a hospital in Central Florida on Monday, DeSantis said he hoped to announce additional vaccine shipments later this week. He was also directing the Division of Emergency Management to help the Department of Health to identify additional sites to administer vaccines, including converting the state-supported testing sites and create partnerships with houses of worship across Florida to get vaccination sites into underserved communities.

DeSantis said he was also directing the hiring of an additional 1,000 nurses to help administer vaccines in addition to 800 National Guard personnel already supporting the effort.

“Partnerships with Florida hospitals remain critical to our efforts, but this alone is not enough to reach our vaccination goals,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also said sites that provide vaccinations should do it seven days a week.

DeSantis said any hospital that doesn’t meet its vaccination goals will see supplies redistributed to more other providers.

Mary Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said the state’s hospitals were ``working tirelessly’' to serve the community and roll out the vaccinations.

“Hospitals are absolutely committed to efficiently administering the vaccines,” Mayhew said, noting that “the vast majority of the vaccine just arrived within the last week and a half prior to two holidays.”

As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders --although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older, who the governor has made a key demographic for vaccinations.

On Dec. 23, the governor issued an executive order that made people 65 and older a priority for vaccinations, as opposed to “essential” workers such as teachers, first responders and grocery-store employees.

Florida has more than 4.4 million people age 65 and older, which drives up the demand for vaccinations. But DeSantis defended the decision to move away from the federal guidelines, which also included vaccinating people 75 and older.

“Florida’s approach, I think, is the better approach. If you have a 73-year-old parent, 73-year-old grandparent, in the vast majority of states in this country, they are simply not eligible to be vaccinated. And we don’t believe that’s right,” DeSantis said, adding, “We believe that the seniors have to be put first.”

According to Monday’s FDOH data, 13,762 vaccines have been given in Duval County so far -- most to hospital employees -- 5,594 shots have been given in St. Johns County and 2,543 were administered in Clay County. Fewer than 1,000 were given in other Northeast Florida counties.

On Sunday, the state Department of Health reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases. About 7,000 people are currently hospitalized. According to state health statistics, some 1.36 million people have contracted the virus, and 21,987 have died.

DeSantis said he intends on bringing essential workers into the fold of people eligible for vaccinations after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate receives emergency use authorization from the federal government. Unlike vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require two shots, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if approved, would be a one-time shot, which would be easier for employers to deliver, DeSantis said.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.