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DeSantis: If hospitals don’t give coronavirus vaccines fast enough, they’ll lose their shots

The governor also announced that some state testing sites will be converted to vaccination sites.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday that Florida is watching closely to see whether hospitals are handing out coronavirus vaccinations quickly enough.

At a news conference in Longwood, DeSantis said any hospital chain that fails to meet its vaccination goal will have its supplies redistributed to more expedient providers.

“I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm,” DeSantis said, referencing the hospital chains that have been charged with administering most of the state’s doses of the vaccines to the public.

Hospital officials, meanwhile, continued to assert Monday that the state’s plan saddles them with an unprecedented logistical task at a precarious time. Mary Mayhew, who until October was DeSantis’ secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, noted that hospitals are being asked by DeSantis to distribute the vaccine at the same time COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise.

“We’ve got a storm to weather right now as the hospitalizations are increasing,” said Mayhew, who is now the president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. “While we have optimism about the vaccine, we’re battling on two fronts.”

Some hospitals need to step up more than they have, DeSantis implied Monday during a news conference with officials from Orlando Health, the chain that runs Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. He said he wanted to spark “healthy competition” between Florida’s hospital chains and that he will hold hospitals accountable for projections they made in vaccination plans submitted to the state.

According to a Dec. 31 news release from the advocacy group the Florida Hospital Association, hospitals had gotten about 533,000 doses of the vaccines. That figure represented about 55 percent of Florida’s total allotment at the time. Yet DeSantis gave a different statistic Monday, saying 80 percent of the state’s vaccine doses had gone to hospitals.

After this story was published, the governor’s office said DeSantis’ 80 percent figure referred to Florida’s initial vaccine allotment in mid-December. That statistic is now out of date.

Through Sunday, Florida had given nearly 260,000 people the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The available vaccinations require two shots several weeks apart. So far, the state has prioritized front line health care workers, residents and staff at long term care facilities, and residents 65 and older. Some states have given some of their first shots to other so-called “front-line workers,” such as teachers or grocery store workers, regardless of those people’s ages. Not Florida.

The state’s 67 county health departments are responsible for distributing significant quantities of the coronavirus vaccine — particularly to the state’s elderly population. So far, that process has been confusing for some Floridians. On Monday, while the governor spoke, the state’s Department of Health website went down. Earlier in the day, the Pinellas County Department of Health tweeted that its phone lines and website were experiencing “issues.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, took to Twitter to criticize the state’s technical glitches. Kriseman noted that in 2013, DeSantis, a Republican, called out then-President Barack Obama for the federal government’s inauspicious healthcare.gov rollout.

Despite the technical issues, DeSantis announced several new state initiatives aimed at giving Floridians faster access to the vaccine. The state will soon contract 1,000 nurses to help distribute vaccines, he said. Some state COVID-19 testing sites will be converted to vaccination sites. Florida officials will soon deliver the vaccine to “places of worship in underserved communities.” And state-run vaccination sites will be open seven days per week, DeSantis said.

In response to a question from a reporter, the governor said that over all, America’s vaccine rollout has been impressive so far. According to Bloomberg, The United States has vaccinated about 1.3 percent of its population, a figure which ranks fourth in the world. Israel, which has vaccinated 12 percent of its population, ranks first.

Mayhew, DeSantis’ former top health official, said Florida is at the mercy of federal shipments of the vaccine.

“The challenge for the state and for hospitals and for other community partners that are vaccinating is the lack of predictability around the amount of vaccine that will be available week over week,” Mayhew said.

DeSantis said America would have vaccinated more of its population by now if it weren’t for society’s slow pace during the December holiday season.

“Israel’s No. 1 with a bullet. I can tell you if Israel got those doses two days before Passover, they wouldn’t have gotten as many (vaccinated),” DeSantis said. “I think a lot of the criticism nationwide is kind of unfair. There just wasn’t the doses in hand until really right before Christmas.”

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