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Half of Florida's unused vaccine vials are being reserved for second dose, DeSantis implies

The state is getting 266,000 first doses per week and has the capacity to do more, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday, saying the federal govt. should increase supply.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — By the end of January, the COVID-19 vaccine will have been offered to every resident and staff member of all 4,000 of Florida's long-term care facilities, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday.

The governor delivered a news conference from the River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged on Old St. Augustine Road at 12 p.m. He said the effects of the vaccine have been minimal at the senior care facility. 

River Garden Hebrew Home already has almost 100% of their residents and 75% of their staff vaccinated for COVID-19, a spokesperson told First Coast News. The staff has done a lot of work to educate people about the importance of vaccinations, and has worked with Walgreens to hold vaccine clinics.

DeSantis said already, 22% of all seniors age 65 and up have been vaccinated. That's more than 1 million seniors. Almost 70% of all shots administered have gone to seniors.

Since the vaccine rollout began, Florida has been given nearly 3 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. As of Monday morning, data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the state has distributed around 1.5 million doses.

DeSantis has pushed back on plans by President Joe Biden to bring the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into the distribution process, slamming so-called "FEMA camps" as unnecessary in Florida's distribution efforts.

New White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on DeSantis' claims Monday, asserting that Florida still has unused vaccine doses to be distributed.

"We're data first here, facts first here," Psaki said. "They've only distributed about 50 percent of the vaccines they have been given in Florida." 

The CDC data reflects 53 percent of the doses the state has been given have been distributed. DeSantis implied Monday, without saying explicitly, that the state is holding vaccine doses for needed second doses.

"The second doses, as we get through this week but particularly in the next week, you're gonna see those start to go higher," he said.

Florida has been receiving 266,000 first doses per week, but the state has the capacity to administer more, the governor said. He said getting more doses to states should be the federal government's main priority so they can "get shots into arms."

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On Monday, the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP wrote a letter to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, addressing issues of racial disparity in how the state and local government have handled vaccine distribution.

"Neither the State of Florida nor the City of Jacksonville have revealed a comprehensive plan or the operational capacity to implement the mass vaccination campaign required to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people in our community," the organization writes.

The group called for vaccination efforts to focus on three primary factors when determining priority populations:

  • Risk for morbidity and mortality
  • Benefits accrued by vaccinating
  • Equity

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, 54 percent of the 72,602 vaccine doses administered in Duval County have gone to white patients, while only 11 percent have gone to Black patients.

"We have not seen any real plan presented to the public on how we're gonna move forward," said Dr. Rogers Cain, who is with both the NAACP and the Northeast Florida Medical Society. "What you should be doing is bringing the vaccine to the people. We're doing just the opposite of what's the most effective way of dealing with this crisis." 

Cain and the NAACP have also called for a more comprehensive plan in bringing community vaccination centers to economically disadvantaged areas, and especially communities of color.

A spokesperson for the City of Jacksonville provided the following response to the NAACP letter:

"While the City of Jacksonville does not control the supply chain of the COVID-19 vaccine, we want to point out the many inaccuracies (false information) in this letter.

The City of Jacksonville does have the capacity to implement mass vaccinations as we have demonstrated through our multiple COVID-19 testing sites throughout the City. We were instrumental in bringing one of the first testing sites online at TIAA Bank Field, Legends Center and multiple additional, locations throughout the City. In addition, we have implemented testing in the very zones mentioned in this letter. These have included schools, churches, health centers and more. (First Coast HS, Frank H Peterson Academy and Regency Square Mall prior to it becoming a state site.)

While we stand ready to reopen the two vaccine sites where we safely and successfully distributed our allotment of the vaccine over a ten-day period, we have also let the Department of Emergency Management know that we are willing and able to open additional sites if more vaccines become available. At this time, the Governor opted to distribute all vaccines through sites operated by the Department of Emergency Management.

This letter demonstrates the lack of knowledge and information for how this process operates. The Federal Government distributes the vaccine to states who then in turn decide how to distribute throughout its cities and counties. We acknowledge that more vaccines are extremely necessary in every community and when and if the state informs us that they are available, we stand ready to distribute. In the meantime, the State will distribute all vaccines through the Regency location."

First Coast News reached out to the Duval County Department of Health for a response and is waiting for a statement.