Florida will expand access to vaccines in March, April, DeSantis says

By April, vaccines are “not going to be very difficult for people to be able to get,” the governor said in Jacksonville.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions during a news conference in January. On Thursday, he spoke to reporters in Jacksonville, saying expanded access to coronavirus vaccines is coming.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions during a news conference in January. On Thursday, he spoke to reporters in Jacksonville, saying expanded access to coronavirus vaccines is coming. [ JOE BURBANK | AP ]
Published Feb. 25, 2021|Updated Feb. 25, 2021

The eligibility age for coronavirus vaccines in Florida will lower in March, and shots should be widely available by April, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday, facing more questions from reporters about the state’s plan for distributing the drugs.

“I would say, without question, barring any problems with the vaccine distribution, you’re going to see the age lower at some time in March, for sure,” he said at a news conference in Jacksonville. “As soon as we have the metrics to justify it, we’re going to let people know.”

By April, vaccines are “not going to be very difficult for people to be able to get,” DeSantis added. “I think the supply is going to be very robust. ... Within the next four to six weeks, you’re going to see this, I think, potentially really turn a corner just in terms of how ready access people have to it.”

Thursday was the first time the governor has spoken specifically about when access to vaccines might expand. But there were still details lacking, like how much the age will lower, and whether the state will make shots available to essential workers and people considered medically vulnerable.

Related: Florida is better off without a detailed vaccination plan, DeSantis says

DeSantis suggested earlier this week in Miami that teachers and law enforcement officers ages 50 and older would get access to vaccines next, through four vaccination sites the Federal Emergency Management Agency will open on March 3 in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami.

He spoke more clearly about that eligibility expansion on Thursday, stating it as fact rather than a possibility, and said more information about those groups’ access will be announced next week.

DeSantis also said the state is “looking at the most effective way” to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine once it gets federal approval, which is expected as soon as this weekend. Vials will be shipped to Florida immediately, he said, and the state expects to receive tens of thousands of doses.

“We’re going to work with different folks to figure out what is the best way to apply that,” he said of the Johnson & Johnson doses. “We’re working on it today and tomorrow and by beginning of next week, we’ll have an announcement.”

Related: Who gets vaccinated next? Florida's the only state that doesn't tell you.

As he had earlier in the week, the governor defended Florida’s lack of a cohesive, detailed plan for vaccine rollout, saying that he hasn’t wanted to share information that might have to change.

“People say, ‘Oh, these other states have all these plans,’” he said. “A lot of those plans haven’t worked out. I mean, they’ve had to change their criteria … they had plans in December and had to shift.”

Meanwhile in Florida, public officials, local leaders and residents have written to the governor and taken to social media to express frustration about the lack of information coming from the state regarding vaccines.

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Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott asked the state for clarity on the rollout in a letter Jan. 8, and Congressman Charlie Crist has criticized DeSantis’ for months for not being transparent about distribution.

“The notion that there would not be a plan, or if there is one and you’re not transparent about it — neither of those scenarios are good,” Crist said in a recent interview. “That’s unforgivable.”

Health experts also have expressed worry about how little information has come from the state, saying it has bred confusion and created frantic scrambling for shots among residents.

“The general public still doesn’t have a good sense of what’s happening, when vaccines will be available and how,” Dr. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, said in January, about a month into the state’s rollout.

Related: Florida's vaccine rollout so far: Not enough doses, 'no real plan'

DeSantis faced more questions about the state’s rollout at a second appearance in Fort Pierce on Thursday. One reporter pointed out that the governor had “touted the fact that the state does not have a detailed, comprehensive vaccination plan” at a news conference a day prior.

“That’s not what I said,” DeSantis responded, backtracking on his earlier comments that Florida is better off without a plan.

He again defended his choice to “reject” recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and instead put seniors before any other members of the general public.

“Our plan is seniors first. If you’re 65 and up — rich, poor, black, white — we want you to get a shot,” DeSantis said. “It’s a very simple plan. It’s a very simple strategy.”

Recent criticism, however, has been directed not at the governor’s 65-and-up policy but at the lack of information about which groups can expect to be vaccinated next.

Florida wants to reach even the seniors who are torn about whether they want the vaccine before opening up access to other groups, the governor added, repeating for the second time the state will lower the age of eligibility for shots “sometime in March.”

“The minute you lower the age ... there’s going to be a lot of those people that are going to crush the system,” DeSantis said. “I don’t want to end up drowning (seniors) out. But as soon as we see the demand peter down from seniors, then we obviously want to open it up to be able to get more folks.”

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