Gov. DeSantis prioritizes early vaccines for anyone 65 or older

Florida governor breaking with CDC guidelines to vaccinate older population before essential workers

PENSACOLA, Fla. – One day after breaking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for the priority of getting COVID-19 vaccinations, announcing that people 70 years old and above would be prioritized over essential workers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lowered the target age again Wednesday -- to 65.

“The problem is people that are 73, 74 would be in the back of the line for a young 21-year-old worker who’s considered `essential.’ That doesn’t, I think, make sense,’' DeSantis said at Pensacola’s Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital.

DeSantis said he said a sign-up procedure for the general public to get vaccines will be announced soon and that shots could be available as early as Monday of next week.

“Don’t rush to your local hospital or health department,” DeSantis said, adding that while vaccines will begin going out designated for the senior population soon, “It will be a relatively limited supply.”

Executive Order 20-315, which DeSantis signed Wednesday, outlines the priorities for the first phase of vaccine administration as:

  • Long-term care facility residents and staff
  • Persons 65 years of age and older
  • Health care personnel with direct patient contact

The order does say that hospital providers also may vaccinate anyone who they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.

The next priority when more vaccine arrives would be law enforcement, firefighters and teachers, DeSantis said.

About 4.4 million Florida residents are over the age of 65 and more than 3 million are over 70, DeSantis said. According to the American Associated for Retired Persons, more than 70% of COVID fatalities nationwide have been people over the age of 65.

DeSantis’ move was applauded by the Florida Hospital Association.

“They are at greatest risk of COVID-19. They are certainly those that are most at risk of becoming hospitalized,” said Mary Mathew, president o the FHA.

With hospitalizations more than doubling since September, Mayhew hopes targeting the elderly will ensure open beds for COVID and non-COVID patients alike.

“We know cancer, heart attacks -- that hasn’t gone away and we need to make sure that there’s capacity in the system to support those needs as well,” Mayhew said.

DeSantis’ plan is a break from the recommendations of the CDC, which put vaccinations of healthy seniors under 75 in Phase II.

After healthcare workers and residents of long-term facilities, the next groups recommended for vaccine priority are first responders, USPS employees, grocery store workers and teachers. The CDC then recommends people between 65 to 74 years old, people ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions along with other essential workers, including food service workers, construction, bank tellers, IT & communications, public safety and media.

But the decision of who actually gets the vaccine next falls on the states.

A group of seniors in The Villages were vaccinated Wednesday during the DeSantis press conference at UF Health on Wednesday.

“These are probably the first members of the community who are senior citizens to be to be vaccinated, maybe anywhere in the country but certainly in Florida,” DeSantis said of the group. “This is kind of a preview of what we’re gonna be seeing an awful lot of hopefully over the next weeks and months.”

Previously, Florida has been focusing on administering vaccines to frontline health care workers and those living and working in long term care facilities. Last week, Florida received 179,400 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which was used for those groups.

“I think once we offer it to elderly — and particularly if we get a Johnson & Johnson approval which is one dose — I think you’re going to be able to offer it broadly and I think some of the key areas, whether it’s law enforcement, fire, whether it’s teachers, I think that they will have access,” DeSantis said.

As of Wednesday morning, 68,133 people in the state have received a first dose of the vaccine, according to the Florida Department of Health.

DeSantis said this week, the state got an additional 127,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and by the end of Tuesday, the state should have 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

DeSantis was asked Wednesday if he would get the vaccine like other politicians around the country.

“We’re setting criteria and I’m going to follow the criteria we set,” he said. “It makes no sense for someone that’s 42 to jump ahead of somebody that’s 70 years old...If there’s one dose here in Pensacola left for this week, I wanted to go to an elderly, I don’t want it to go to me.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio faced criticism this week for receiving the vaccine before the general public and front-line workers. Rubio is among dozens of members of Congress who have had the vaccine so far. Some said they did it to inspire confidence in the vaccine.

About the Authors:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.