OCALA — Florida soon will start distributing coronavirus vaccines based only on a person’s age, and not on their occupation, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.
Sometime this month, the state will lower the eligibility age for vaccination to 60, then to 55 a week later, DeSantis said during an appearance in Marion County. “That’s what we’re going to do instead of try to pick and choose different things.”
The state is “not doing any occupation changes,” DeSantis added. “If you’re 60, you’re going to be able to go. And it doesn’t matter what your vocation is, and it doesn’t matter if you’re retired, you’re going to be able to go.”
Those who previously were cleared to receive vaccines because of their occupations will continue to be eligible. For example, when the eligibility age drops to 60 or 55, the state will still allow police officers, firefighters and school staff who are at least 50 to sign up for vaccinations.
The governor’s comments came a day after he said the state would vaccinate only educators who work in K-12 schools and are at least 50 years old. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden pledged on Tuesday that federally run vaccination sites in Florida will give shots to all school and child care workers, regardless of age and position.
Before this week, Florida had been distributing vaccines based on an order DeSantis signed Dec. 23. It limited vaccines to long-term care facility residents and staff, people 65 and older and health care workers with direct patient contact.
The conflicting directives on educators — one from the state, a different one from the federal government — caused confusion this week, particularly for those working in day care, pre-k and higher education roles. Many from United Faculty of Florida, the union representing more than 20,000 members across the state, wrote to DeSantis to complain.
”It is extremely disappointing that the governor of the state of Florida will boast about the accomplishments of our higher education institutions in order to show that the state is worth investing in, and will simultaneously force faculty and staff to return to campus without prioritizing their health and safety,” wrote Martha Meyer, the union president at Florida International University. “This is a failure on the part of the governor to address the entire PreK-20 education in his state as a collective essential entity.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, criticized the DeSantis administration Friday for not being more clear with Floridians about who will be eligible for vaccines next.
“The state of Florida did not have, and still does not have, a coherent vaccination plan,” Castor said Friday afternoon during a news conference at the new federally run vaccination site at the Tampa Greyhound Track.
Castor lauded the Biden administration for prioritizing all school employees for vaccines, regardless of age, and stressed that these employees can get shots even without an appointment at the federal site in Tampa. She said she didn’t understand why DeSantis has not removed the age restriction for school employees at some of the other vaccination sites in the state.
“Now that the vaccine is ramping up in significant supplies, don’t be a gatekeeper on the state-run sites, like Raymond James Stadium, for all educators,” Castor said.
She also said she’d like to see DeSantis do away with requiring Floridians under 65 with underlying health conditions to have a doctor’s note in order to get a coronavirus vaccine from a pharmacy. Castor said it could create barriers for some people who are at risk for serious complications from the virus, and said she’d like to see vaccines for this population “work on the honor system.”
The state distributed a news release Friday saying, “Gov. DeSantis’ administration is taking the necessary steps to ensure the vaccine gets administered as quickly as possible.”
At a second stop during a swing around the state earlier in the day, the governor again praised the efficacy and ease of the one-dose coronavirus vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, which was recently approved for use in the U.S. Florida expects to receive about 175,000 total doses, 60,000 of which were delivered late Thursday, he said.
Some of the first vials were distributed Friday afternoon at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven, where DeSantis spoke again to reporters as law enforcement officers from Polk, Hardee, Highlands and Lake counties received shots.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “perfect for people that are in the workforce,” the governor said, because they have to get just one shot instead of two, as required by the other approved coronavirus vaccines. “You come and do these and it’s great. You don’t even have to worry about it going forward.”
DeSantis reiterated that Florida will prioritize vaccinations based on age only, not by profession. “That’s where the risk is,” he said of people 50 and older.
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