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DeSantis: coronavirus vaccine to be offered to Floridians 60 and older next week

The governor said more vaccine had become eligible for distribution because the state has vaccinated so many seniors already.
Gov. Ron DeSantis waves at lawmakers and guests in the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee following his State of the State address during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis waves at lawmakers and guests in the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee following his State of the State address during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 8
Updated Mar. 9

TALLAHASSEE — Any Floridian 60 and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccination starting March 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday.

DeSantis said Florida could afford to offer the vaccine more broadly because of what he called “softening” demand among seniors.

“The pharmacies have their windows to sign up. They’re not gone in ten minutes like they were a month and a half ago,” DeSantis said. “We think that’s a good sign because we think that we’ve reached a critical mass of the senior population.”

According to a 2019 estimate by the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, about 1.4 million people between the ages of 60 and 64 live in Florida.

DeSantis’ announcement expands vaccine eligibility to fewer Floridians than that, however. Teachers, sworn law enforcement officers and firefighters aged 50 or older, and some people deemed “extremely vulnerable” to the virus, were eligible for the vaccine before DeSantis’ latest announcement. So were staff at long term care facilities and frontline health care workers of any age.

About 2.6 million Floridians older than 65 had gotten at least one coronavirus shot as of Sunday, state data published Monday showed. That’s about 58 percent of all seniors in the state.

Jeff Johnson, the state director for AARP Florida, said his organization was still hearing reports of seniors struggling to get vaccine appointments. Some parts of the state are seeing less of a logjam than others, he noted. In north Florida, Johnson said he’s heard it’s easier to find an appointment time than it is in southwest Florida or Tampa Bay.

Vaccine hesitancy may also be affecting demand for the coronavirus vaccine in Florida. It’s unclear precisely how, but public opinion polls show that Republicans are significantly more likely than the average American to say they definitely will not get the vaccine.

With this latest order, Floridians eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine under state policy are: long-term care facility residents and staff; people aged 60 and older; frontline health care workers; and sworn law enforcement, K-12 employees and firefighters aged 50 or older.

The governor announced the new vaccine rules at a news conference in Tallahassee. At that same event, he also announced he was bringing on a new chief of staff to replace Shane Strum, who took a job as the chief executive of Broward Health in February.

Adrian Lukis, who has been serving as DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, will be his new top aide, the governor said.

“For all the hard work Shane did, usually Adrian was right there with him,” DeSantis said, noting that Lukis has overseen many aspects of the state’s coronavirus response. “He’s worked incredibly hard. Very knowledgeable, very smart.”

Lukis’ father, Sylvester Lukis, is a lobbyist at the powerful outfit Ballard Partners. The elder Lukis’ clients have included some of the most powerful corporate interests in Florida, including U.S. Sugar.

Adrian Lukis will start his new job next Monday.