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Health News Florida
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Florida Getting Nearly 500,000 Coronavirus Vaccines This Week, DeSantis Says

Close-up of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine vials
Pinellas County Department of Health
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are prepared for distribution in Pinellas County on Dec. 16, 2020.

According to the state’s COVID-19 draft distribution plan,138,588 residents were in nursing homes and assisted living facilities as of Sept. 20.

Florida is receiving a shipment of about 120,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer this week and will get another 360,000-plus doses of a vaccine from Moderna, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday.

The second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine will come days after DeSantis announced what was expected to be a week-long delay in the new supply.

In the early weeks of inoculating Floridians against the disease, DeSantis continues to direct the coveted vaccines to what he calls the “tip of the spear” --- those front-line health care workers dealing directly with infected patients, as well as the roughly 138,000 residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state.

DeSantis will announce a plan Tuesday for the second phase of vaccine distribution that will put Florida’s seniors next in line to get shots, over first responders and general health-care workers.

The governor Monday didn’t disclose the age cutoff for the pending policy but several times discussed the 70-plus population during a news conference in Key Biscayne. A 2020 Census projection estimated about 3.17 million people in Florida were 70 or older.

“Our whole strategy around COVID has always recognized the dramatic discrepancy in risk based on age, and so if you are trying to mitigate based on age surely you’d want to vaccinate based on age,” the governor said, noting that some research indicates that inoculating the bulk of the 70-plus population would drive down the death rate.

The governor also said he disagreed with a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee’s recent recommendation that people over age 75 and front-line essential workers should be next in line to get the shots. Front-line essential workers include first responders, educators, corrections officers and food and agricultural workers. DeSantis called the recommendation a “big mistake.”

“The problems with that is, as I see it, a 22-year-old-food service worker would get a vaccine over a 74-year-old grandmother,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate calculation of the relative risk there.”

DeSantis this month predicted that every resident in a Florida long-term care facility would be offered a vaccine by the end of December. According to the state’s COVID-19 draft distribution plan,138,588 residents were in nursing homes and assisted living facilities as of Sept. 20.

The federal government has signed agreements with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long- term care residents and staff at nursing homes. DeSantis said the state would shore up those efforts with Florida National Guard-led “strike” teams. Those teams were dispatched to Pinellas and Broward counties last week.

“I’ve already told (the teams) You’re active and you're involved in this until all seniors in long- term care facilities have been offered the vaccine,” DeSantis said. He added that he planned on sending teams to other areas soon.

The governor’s announcement Monday that a second round of Pfizer vaccine is headed to Florida came days after The News Service of Florida reported the state wouldn’t get a Pfizer delivery this week. DeSantis subsequently attributed the delay to issues on the manufacturer’s end, which Pfizer denied in a statement.

State Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitiz told the News Service on Monday that a federal tracking system was updated Sunday to indicate that 120,000 doses would be sent to the state this week. While Moskowitz said the second shipment was good news, it’s still less than the 205,000 doses the state initially anticipated would be sent this week.

Moskowitz said some of the 120,000 Pfizer doses would be distributed to hospitals and county health departments. Moskowitz did not say which hospitals would get the vaccines but said it wouldn’t be any of the initial so called Pfizer 5 --- which were five major hospitals located in urban areas.

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, 170 hospitals across the state are slated to receive the Moderna vaccine, which received emergency use authorization from the federal government last week. DeSantis said about 61,000 doses of the vaccine were delivered Monday and that he expected another 300,000 delivered on Tuesday. The Moderna vaccine can be stored at regular freezer temperatures or minus 20 degrees Celsius.

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