Florida is routing at least 8,000 additional doses of coronavirus vaccine to Pinellas County, citing a low percentage of vaccinated seniors there.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking at news conference Thursday in Pinellas Park, said the county has vaccinated 35 percent of people 65 and older. He announced a new vaccination site at Mainlands of Tamarac by the Gulf, a large residential community near 49th Street N and U.S. 19 where 3,000 people will receive doses by Saturday. An additional 5,000 doses will be distributed soon at another Pinellas site, he said.
“We want to surge more doses and everything there,” the governor said. “This is part of that effort to be able to up the doses in Pinellas County.”
DeSantis said all appointments at Mainlands “will be handled by Pinellas County.” But the community’s website says appointments must be made through its office, and Pinellas health department spokeswoman Margarita Hall said the department is not involved.
“Please use patience there are plenty of appointments,” the Mainlands’ site states.
The governor did not share details about the next Pinellas location to distribute additional doses, saying only that it will open next week and the 5,000 doses will be on top of what the county regularly receives.
Pinellas had given at least one vaccine shot to nearly 33 percent of the people age 65 and older in the county, according to state data from Wednesday and information from the U.S. Census Bureau. That puts the county behind many others in the state in terms of the proportion of its seniors getting shots, with Pinellas ranking 53rd among the 67 counties.
However, Pinellas fares better in terms of total people vaccinated, landing roughly in the middle in a ranking of counties.
Other counties in the greater Tampa Bay region are also falling well below the state average of nearly 42 percent of seniors vaccinated. Manatee County has given at least one shot to about 28 percent of its 65 and older population, while Polk County has vaccinated about 29 percent of its elderly population.
Hernando has reached about 30 percent of its seniors and Pasco is at less than 32 percent. Hillsborough is faring only slightly better than Pinellas, with 35 percent of its seniors having gotten at least one dose.
At the news conference, DeSantis heard questions from reporters about how pop-up vaccination sites across the state are being chosen. He faced backlash during a similar appearance in Manatee County on Wednesday, where he announced an exclusive vaccine access for residents of Lakewood Ranch and other well-off neighborhoods.
The governor again defended those decisions Thursday, saying he’s simply trying to route vaccines to places in the state that have lower rates of vaccinated seniors.
DeSantis said Florida’s shipment of Moderna vaccine doses was still being held up by winter storms across the country, adding they are “basically just sitting in the Fedex warehouse.” He told people in search of their second dose to “just hang in there.”
Asked by a reporter when Florida will move past residents 65 and older and start to vaccinate other groups, the governor said he expects to see “demand soften” among seniors once close to 3 million of the state’s 4.3 million people in that age group have gotten shots.
“As of right now, we still have more demand than supply on a weekly basis, and so we’re going to stay the course with putting seniors first,” he said. “Once the seniors are taken care of, then I think we’ll be able to do more.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
VACCINES Q & A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
A TRIBUTE TO THE FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.