JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said that by the end of the month, the state will have offered vaccinations to every resident and staff member at all 4,000 long-term care facilities in Florida.
While DeSantis touted the success of the vaccination program for long-term care facilities during a news conference Monday in front of River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged, he also said that vaccine supplies for seniors in the state have failed to increase in the last few weeks.
The governor noted that not all long-term care residents or staff have chosen to get the vaccine, but added that 97% of all skilled nursing facilities have at least one vaccinated resident or staff member.
It’s a segment of the population that has been hit particularly hard by the sometimes deadly coronavirus.
Last week, Florida topped 9,000 coronavirus-related deaths of residents and staff members of long-term care facilities -- with the vast majority involving seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“They are by their very nature and their their their age and some of the underlying health status. It makes them more vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID,” DeSantis said. “The thing about it, it is not just protecting an individual against the virus, which is obviously very important because people’s health and lives are at stake, but this really is the way to get these residents back to normal.”
River Garden resident Roma Heaven, 93, has now received both shots.
“I’m going to be able to go out and visit my family, I haven’t seen my grandchildren great-grandchildren since March,” Heaven said. “I’m able now to go out to birthday parties reunions Thanksgiving Christmas with the family.”
At River Garden, 97% of the residents have been vaccinated.
For those who choose not to get the vaccine, DeSantis and health care officials are encouraging the use of antibody treatments from both Eli Lilly and Regeneron.
DeSantis also used the news conference Monday to update the public on the status of vaccine distribution as frustration with the process grows in North Florida.
It has been harder and harder for people to make appointments to get the shots and with two senior sites no longer offering first doses it is going to take longer for many Floridians.
As of Monday morning, Florida has received about 1.7 million first doses since Pfizer and Moderna started distribution and 1.25 million people have been vaccinated, DeSantis said, noting the unused vaccine doses are mostly second doses being held. About 22% of the 4.5 million seniors in Florida 65 and up have received a vaccination shot, he added.
Recently, the state has been receiving around 266,000 doses each week, a number that hasn’t changed much since December.
“From the federal government’s perspective, I think the only thing we need to be focusing on is increasing the supply of these doses for our seniors. If you get us more supply, we’re gonna be able to get that into people’s arms,” DeSantis said. “If we can get 500,000 a week, instead of just 266,000, we’re going to be able to vaccinate that many more seniors that much more quickly.”
DeSantis said the state could start vaccinating other Florida populations, like front-line workers, which include teachers and law enforcement, by early March if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved soon.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN last week that vaccine is “right around the corner.”