PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – As of Thursday, the only Florida residents getting vaccinated at state sites include seniors 65 years of age and older, health care personnel and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
It’s never been clear when Gov. Ron DeSantis will expand vaccine access to other Floridians, but he provided a hint Thursday during a news conference in Pinellas Park.
“I think once the demand starts to soften,” DeSantis said. “As we get into two and a half, three million [seniors vaccinated], you will start to see the demand soften. So if we have Walmart or Publix or these community sites where they have trouble filling up appointments, well then, yeah, we’re gonna work to open it up.”
DeSantis said, for now, there is still more demand than supply.
“So we’re gonna stay the course with putting seniors first. Once the seniors are taken care of, then I think we’ll be able to do more,” DeSantis said.
Over 2 million Florida seniors have been vaccinated so far, DeSantis said, which represents just over 40% of the senior population in the state.
The state has been dealing with vaccine shipment delays due to dangerous storms sweeping the nation this week, but DeSantis said he expects to receive at least 400,000 doses each week which will go a long way to getting vaccines to seniors who want it.
It’s not clear exactly who would be included in the next phase of vaccination efforts or when it would begin.
DeSantis has defended his focus on seniors for the initial phase of the vaccine rollout, a departure from the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends states vaccinate people 75 years and older as well as frontline essential workers like firefighters, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers and teachers.
Florida teachers unions and others have pressured DeSantis to offer the vaccine to teachers, citing CDC recommendations, but DeSantis has said the state will focus on seniors because they have an increased chance of experiencing serious health complications due to the coronavirus.
Vaccine distribution efforts are expected to increase with the help of the federal government.
DeSantis said the state is also working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to set up new vaccine sites around the state that could administer around 20,000 doses a week. Those sites could be up and running by March, he said.