With tens of thousands of senior citizens clamoring for a coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Friday that shipments aren’t increasing, which means long waits will continue.
While he said he asked the outgoing Trump administration to increase Florida’s allotment, it didn’t happen. He said he expects the state will receive another 266,000 doses next week, roughly the same number it received this week.
“We could easily do twice that,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Key Largo. “We want to get more going now.”
For the second day this week, thousands of seniors awoke early to try to get an appointment at Publix, which DeSantis has turned into the go-to place for vaccines.
Roughly 300,000 people logged on and within two hours about 48,900 snatched up all of the available appointments at roughly 250 stores across the state, said Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for the supermarket giant.
“There is tremendous demand for the vaccine and a limited supply,” Publix said on its website after all the appointments were booked. If supplies are available, it said it would begin accepting appointments again at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
With supplies running short, the county health department is administering fewer than 400 vaccinations a day as it works through a waiting list of 200,000 seniors who have requested appointments.
The county’s tax-funded health care district is helping the agency work through the backlog by administering another roughly 1,000 vaccinations a day, said Alexander Shaw, a spokesman for the health department.
While state health officials on Friday unveiled a phone-in reservation system in other parts of the state, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties, there are no plans to offer it here.
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“A launch date for the new state appointment system in Palm Beach County has yet to be determined,” Shaw said.
The continuing shortage of vaccines along with chaos surrounding reservation systems has been a blow to those over 65, who DeSantis promised would be among the first to get shots. Frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes are also in the first wave.
Some seniors and others were further outraged by the state’s new edict that will restrict vaccines to residents only.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Thursday said snowbirds can get vaccines. Those who don’t have Florida driver’s licenses, can use other documents, such as mortgages, lease agreements or utility bills, to qualify for a vaccine.
But, some said they don’t have the necessary paperwork. Seniors who rent from friends or have other unconventional arrangements won’t be able to meet the requirements, some said.
“I have none of the things required and will fly back to Chicago, sadly,” said Judith Boggess, who spends part of the year renting from a friend in Palm Beach County.
The requirements will also be impossible for migrant workers to meet, advocates said.
"The governor knows many of these essential workers won't be able to provide an ID or proof of residency due to their immigration status," said Lindsay McEloy, a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth.
With farm laborers working throughout the pandemic, the infection rate is as high as 30 percent in the migrant community, center officials have said.
"Governor DeSantis' decision is a clear attack on the workers who have been essential throughout the pandemic and were already excluded from the first round of vaccines and all government aid," McElroy said in a statement.
Father Frank O'Loughlin, executive director of the center, put it more bluntly. “Ron DeSantis has determined whose families deserve to live and whose families deserve to die."
How the governor's state residency requirement will square with President Joe Biden's plan to dispatch federal emergency workers to administer vaccines remains to be seen.
But, DeSantis on Friday again scoffed at Biden’s plan to enlist the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“First of all, it will take, like, 30 days for FEMA to set up,” DeSantis said. “It’s not necessary in Florida.”
“I would use all that energy and I would put that toward more supply of the vaccine,” he said.
County health departments, hospitals, churches and Publix are capable of vaccinating far more people, he said.
Already,1,110,459 people in the state have gotten the first dose of the two-shot vaccine, according to the Florida Department of Health. Another 139,345 have gotten both shots.
In Palm Beach County, 106,115 people have received one shot and another 5,663 are fully vaccinated.
Of the total who have gotten the first shot, nearly 802,000 were over the age of 65, state health officials said.
“You have folks working their tails of to get vaccines into the arms of our senior citizens,” DeSantis said. “We’re proud we’ve adopted a seniors-first strategy.
But, while not begrudging seniors their first-in-line status, others say there are gaping holes in the vaccination plan: those under the age of 65 who have serious health problems.
Annie Cannon, who lives in Century Village, has desperately tired to get a vaccine for her 64-year-old husband, who is a diabetic and suffers from seizures as a result of an injury he sustained while in the U.S. Army.
He wouldn’t survive if he contracted the virus, she said.
While DeSantis’ order allows exceptions to be made for people under the age of 65 who have underlying health problems that put them at risk, Cannon said no one has offered to help her husband.
“No one is giving it to him,” she said. “Not the VA, not the state and not the county.”
Dr. John Rubin, a Boca Raton internist, said he has been unable to get the vaccine for his vulnerable patients who don't meet the age requirement, including one who had a heart transplant.
"I am very frustrated with trying to help my young high risk patients," he said.
Dr. Alina Alonso, the county’s health director, has said only hospitals can vaccinate those under 65. Local hospital officials said their limited supplies have gone to healthcare workers and haven’t been replenished.
“I wish someone would acknowledge this is an issue,” Cannon said. “How do you fix this? How do we get (people with serious ailments) vaccinated as well?”
Rubin said an obvious answer is giving doctors vaccines that they could administer to their vulnerable patients.
The key, DeSantis said, is more vaccines. Once the state's 4.5 million seniors have gotten the injections, others can begin lining up.
“I’m confident we’re going to be able to move a heck of a lot of vaccine if we get it,” he said.
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