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DeSantis reverses COVID-19 vaccine strategy to ensure second doses

The change was briefly mentioned during a Tuesday morning news conference.
FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right rear, watches as Carlos Dennis, left, 65, rolls up his sleeve so that Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue paramedic, Capt. Javier Crespo, can administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Florida was one of the first states to throw open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over 65, leading to rumors that tourists and day-trippers are swooping into the state solely for the jab.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right rear, watches as Carlos Dennis, left, 65, rolls up his sleeve so that Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue paramedic, Capt. Javier Crespo, can administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Florida was one of the first states to throw open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over 65, leading to rumors that tourists and day-trippers are swooping into the state solely for the jab. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Jan. 26
Updated Jan. 26

TALLAHASSEE — In a reversal, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that the state is now withholding COVID-19 vaccines to ensure seniors and healthcare workers can get their second doses.

As hundreds of thousands of Floridians approach the 28-day deadline this week to receive their second Moderna vaccine dose, DeSantis guaranteed there would be enough supply to meet the demand.

“We’re not going to divert second doses away from seniors,” DeSantis said. “Seniors want it. We’re going to do it. So, if the implication is you should be giving those doses away to other people, that’s not the way the FDA has prescribed it.”

The announcement, briefly mentioned during a news conference in Vero Beach, was in response to a statement from President Joe Biden’s press secretary that Florida had used only half of the COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government.

DeSantis, bristling at the implication that he wasn’t administering doses fast enough, said Tuesday that it was keeping supply on hand for second doses.

Related: Florida has used only half of the vaccines it was sent, White House says

“We are going to have second doses for senior citizens, and if the White House is suggesting we shouldn’t be doing that, I think that that’s not a good suggestion,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

DeSantis said that the state had received 1.7 million “first doses” of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday.

But there is no difference between first and second doses of the vaccine. Although the federal government controls the allocation of the vaccine to each state, the state controls how much is distributed to hospitals and other vendors administering it. Because this information is not released publicly, only state officials know who is getting what supply and when.

Amid uncertainty about Florida’s weekly allotment from the federal government, hospitals and other groups were concerned about having enough vaccine on hand to guarantee people could receive their second booster shot. A second dose is considered necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Until now, DeSantis and his administration derided the idea of keeping vaccines in cold storage to ensure there would be enough second doses to go around, even threatening hospitals who didn’t put the shots in arms fast enough.

“I understand the anxiety,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz told the Times/Herald earlier this month. “But if you have a commodity that’s very limited, and you send it to any place, and that commodity is not getting used, would you continue to send the commodity there?”

He added: “At the end of the day, this is about getting the vaccine out in the community. It will be our job to figure out what’s the best way to get it out there.”

It wasn’t clear how many people would not be getting their first dose as the state diverts them to people needing their booster shots.

DeSantis said second shots were already being sent to the places where people received their first doses.

“If you get a shot at Publix three weeks ago, they’re getting the booster shot sent to them for you to have that appointment to be able to do it,” he said.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.

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