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State Sen. Brandes: Demand For COVID Vaccine Was ‘Hard To Imagine’

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Denise Royal / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida lawmakers blame chaotic vaccine rollout on limited supply of Pfizer and Moderna doses from the federal government.

An increased number of COVID-19 vaccine sites opened across the state this week but demand remains high and the vaccine is in short supply. Nearly 775,000 Floridians have received their first dose. About two out of every three are 65 years old and older — the priority under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order.

But according to the latest data from the state department of health, fewer people have been vaccinated this week compared to last week. Many seniors are frustrated at the chaos and lack of organization when signing up for the vaccine.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is a Republican from Pinellas County and a member of the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which met for the first time Thursday.

He blames Florida’s flawed vaccine rollout on not having a steady supply of doses from the federal government. He talked about the state’s demand and its supply issues on the "Florida Roundup" with host Tom Hudson.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

HUDSON: Are you satisfied the state is doing all it can regarding COVID vaccination distribution?

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
State Rep. Jeff Brandes

BRANDES: One-hundred percent. They are pushing out every vaccine that comes in. Unfortunately, you have a limited supply that arrives at the state every week and an almost unlimited demand. And while we're working to get essential workers and health care workers vaccinated and then kind of the broader population in general, especially those over 65, it probably won't be until such time as we get a very standard supply.

It's coming in 100,000 vaccines, 200,000 vaccines at a time. And when you divide that by 67 counties, you're only getting a handful or a few thousand doses in some counties at any one time. And again, you have, you know, millions of people who want access.

Some of the less populated rural counties are getting maybe a few hundred doses. The state's most populous county, Miami-Dade County, with more than two million people, 20,000 doses. So clearly, demand outstripping supply. The governor's executive order from late last year, prioritizing those 65 and older, when talking with a number of public health officials and hospital managers caught the system a little bit flat-footed. Was that done in consultation with the distribution partners for the vaccine? Should more preparation have been done before making senior citizens the priority?

Well, I think you have to think about a couple of things. One, we have now two different vaccines, and they're not interchangeable. And so now you not only do you have vaccines coming in, but they have multiple vaccines that require two doses each. So it adds another level of complexity to the challenge. Not that we're not up for it, but it's going to take another level of thinking to make sure that we're getting the proper vaccine to the proper hospital. And making sure we have enough dosage for both, not only the first actually but also for people to come back in and get the second vaccine, the booster.

What I'm asking, senator, this was the state system. And there are several different distribution arms — the hospitals, there are Walgreens and CVS going into long term care facilities. But the state Department of Health, was it prepared in your estimation here, looking backward for this prioritization for all senior citizens in Florida to be able to get the shot or shots as the case may be?

Well, I think they're trying to get the shots out as quickly as they get them in. We're not holding any vaccine at the state level. We're pushing it out as quickly as we get it. The problem you run into is you don't know how much you're going to receive, and when you exactly are going to receive it, until a few days or maybe a week out. And so there's not a steady supply of vaccines coming in yet to the point where they can have regular distribution sites. These things are kind of almost pop-up distributions at this point just so that they can push out as much vaccine into the public as they possibly can.

Let me ask you about some of the other infrastructure involved here beyond the locations of the distribution sites. There have been crashed websites and unanswered phone calls with state health department efforts at the county level. Some local governments have taken over vaccine sites and communication from the state department of health. Was the state department of health unprepared for the demand that we've seen?

No, I mean, I think it's hard to imagine the level of demand when essentially you have 22 million people in Florida, everybody wanting the vaccine. And while some people understand that it's for 65 and plus and essential workers, other individuals aren't getting that message, and they're calling to try to get their vaccine, or they have some health risk that they believe qualifies them to receive the vaccine. And so they're calling in as well. And, you know, there's just no way to have 10,000 people answering all of the phone calls and providing clear guidance to everyone. We've got to get to the local counties.

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Denise Royal