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Florida's Vaccine Rollout Remains Chaotic As Florida’s Seniors Wait For Shots

News Service of Florida
Vera Leip, an 88-year-old retired teacher, was the first resident of John Knox Village in Pompano Beach to receive the vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020.

Some Florida hospitals are running out of COVID-19 vaccines, as many seniors continue to grow frustrated waiting for their shot.

Many Florida seniors continue to experience mounting frustrations as they try, often without success, to make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. Seniors across the state say trying to get the vaccine is challenging, as they get repeatedly shut out of appointments through various sign-up sites. They can expect more of the same for many weeks, experts say.

Some seniors who had appointments to roll up their sleeves, saw those dates canceled as some vaccination sites ran out of doses. State and local officials say the problem is one of supply. Not enough vaccine shipments are coming to the state to meet the overwhelming demand.

Meanwhile, the rising COVID-19 infection rate and death toll, and new variants of the virus are only causing more worry. Over the past week, more than 70,000 Floridians tested positive for the virus, and fewer people have been vaccinated than a week earlier.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis is focusing on different statistics. Friday, he said that about a million of the state’s seniors, or around 20% of the state’s 65+ population, have received their first shot. DeSantis also said the state should get another 266,000 first doses of the vaccine next week.

But hospitals and other entities distributing the shots say they don’t have enough information about upcoming shipments to make long-term plans for distribution.

Most of the Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation sent DeSantis a letter Friday expressing “serious concerns with the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Hospital groups are frustrated, too. Cleveland Clinic Florida has distributed 20,000 doses of the vaccine in the last four weeks but did not receive any new doses this week from the state.

“We have not been limited by our ability to give shots,” said Dr. Richard Rothman, who heads Cleveland Clinic Florida’s COVID Operations and Recovery Task Force. “We have been limited by our ability to receive doses.”

UF Health Jax is experiencing a similar situation. It is quickly exhausting its vaccine supply.

“At this point, what we have scheduled, it matches up with how much vaccine we have in our hospital,” said Dr. Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention and control at UF Health Jax. “And once that's done, we're being told very clearly by the state not to expect any more vaccines moving forward.”

And it’s not just hospitals. The lack of supply is hampering efforts at the county level too.

“It's all a supply problem, and we just need more supplies,” said Dr. Todd Husty, with the Seminole County office of the medical director. “The emergency operations folks and our health department folks have been so good setting this up, but the operation is stymied. We just don’t have enough doses.”

According to Dr. Jay Wolfson, professor of public health, medicine and pharmacy, and senior associate dean in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the lack of doses is also compounded by the lack of a clear plan.

“This is more complicated than anything we've ever done,” he said. "And the expectation is, 'Yes, we need more vials.' You can't get what you don't have, but you also can't give it effectively unless you have a real plan that's operationalized between the federal, state, and local resources that need to be able to do this.”

As for help from the federal government, Gov. DeSantis disagrees with President Biden’s plan to enlist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help with the nation’s vaccine rollout. On Tuesday, DeSantis said FEMA camps aren’t necessary in Florida; the state just needs more vaccine.

Craig Fugate is a former FEMA administrator. He says the governor should leave his options open.

“It may not be needed today, but as vaccine production continues to ramp up, we're going to have to pick up the pace from what we've seen so far,” he said. “And as everybody said, the limiting factor in vaccination is the vaccine. But as that increases that supply, we want to make sure everybody has all the resources to use to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”
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Denise Royal