(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis will not adjust Florida's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan to prioritize front-line workers, such as grocery store clerks, and will continue to target elderly residents.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended 20 million people 75 and older and about 30 million “essential front-line workers” be next in line for vaccine distributions.
Under the CDC panel’s guidance, which states do not have to adopt, “front-line” workers include firefighters and police; teachers and school staff; food, agricultural and manufacturing sector workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service employees; public transit workers; and grocery store workers.
DeSantis called the recommendations a “huge mistake” Monday and said Florida will continue to focus on health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care centers.
“The problem – as I see it – is a 22-year-old food-service worker would get a vaccine over a 74-year-old grandmother,” he said. “I don’t think (the recommendation) is an appropriate calculation of relative risk.”
About 100,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were delivered to five Florida hospitals last week. CVS, Walgreens and county health departments began immunizing nursing home residents in earnest this week.
DeSantis said he expected around 61,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine to be delivered Monday, with another 300,000 doses allocated to 170 state hospitals this week. He said Florida also will receive “about 120,000” doses of Pfizer vaccine by Tuesday.
Collectively, Florida should receive “maybe another 750,000 doses by the end of the month, maybe a little bit more,” DeSantis said. “Then, hopefully, a million-and-a-half to 2 million doses in January.”
After health care workers and nursing home residents are inoculated, next in line in Florida will be people age 65 and older.
“The fact is, mortality among the essential workers is a fraction of what it is in the senior population,” DeSantis said. “So, the more you’re able to provide the protection to senior citizens, the less stress you have on hospitals and, obviously, the more lives you’re going to save.
“If you took a 25-year-old sheriff’s deputy somewhere in Florida and said, ‘I have one vaccine, do you want it or should I give it to your parents or grandparents, who may be over 70?’ I think 99 percent of them would say ‘No, give it to the grandparents.' ”
The governor’s commitment to ensuring nursing home residents and the elderly get first dibs at the vaccines comes as AARP says COVID-19 deaths in Florida’s nursing homes have doubled since Thanksgiving.
In the three weeks before and after Thanksgiving, the rate of deaths in Florida nursing homes was 4.7 for every 1,000 residents, more than double the 2.3 death average recorded the previous four weeks, according to AARP, which built its statistics from CDC data, not state sources.
“Public health experts had warned Americans that cases would increase as families traveled and visited each other over Thanksgiving, and the reported numbers have proved these warnings correct,” AARP Florida Director Jeff Johnson said. “Better news may be on the way soon as vaccinations are rolled out, but in the near term, nursing home residents and staff face serious risks.”
More than 7,700 of the state’s 20,680 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths through Monday were nursing home and long-term care residents.
Despite the spike, AARP reported Florida’s 4.7 COVID-19 deaths for every 1,000 nursing home residents is less than one-third of the national 15.3-deaths-per-1,000 rate.
“There is nothing to celebrate,” AARP Florida spokesperson Dave Burns said. “The national average is a catastrophe.”