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DeSantis, White House Haggle Over COVID Vaccine Strategy, Shortage

Gov. Ron DeSantis touts vaccine rollout at Jacksonville's River Garden Hebrew Home.
Gov. Ron DeSantis touts the state's vaccine rollout at Jacksonville's River Garden Hebrew Home on Monday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says officials in Washington told Florida it would start to see the supply increase around this time, but that hasn't happened.

Sparking a partisan tiff with the Biden administration. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the flow of COVID-19 vaccines has been stagnant and Florda needs more to meet the increasing demand from residents.

DeSantis, speaking in Jacksonvile on Monday, said officials in Washington told Florida it would start to see the supply increase around this time, but that hasn't happened.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against DeSantis’ comments, saying Florida has only administered about half of the vaccines it has been given.

DeSantis has prioritized frontline health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and seniors over 65 in the first stage of the vaccine rollout, contradicting CDC guidance that called for the vaccine to be restricted to those over 75. 

“CDC recommended to do workers ahead of the elderly,” DeSantis said. “The mortality statistics did not bear that out, and I felt that you needed to get the vaccine to the folks at the greatest risk of severe COVID outcomes.”

Also, DeSantis last week dismissed President Joe Biden’s plan to enlist help from FEMA to distribute vaccines, saying it already has the infrastructure set up with hospitals, pharmacies and some of the major drive-thru testing sites.
Psaki implied there have been shortcomings in DeSantis’ strategy that were partially responsible for a delay in getting vaccinations into arms. 

“We’re facts-first here. They have only given out 50% of the vaccine doses they have been given in Florida. So clearly they have a good deal of the vaccine; that supply will need to continue to increase as they are able to effectively reach people throughout the state,” Psaki said.

DeSantis argued that most of those doses have been reserved as second doses for Floridians who already received their first shot. 

“Our capacity far outstrips what we’re being given by the feds,” DeSantis said Monday. “They’re in control of this. We were told weeks ago that we would start to see increases now, and we haven't seen it. We’ve been very stagnant.” 

The vaccine will have been offered to every resident of Florida’s 4,000 long-term-care facilities by the end of this month, DeSantis said. Overall, a little a fifth of Floridians 65 and older have been vaccinated so far. 

On Monday, DeSasntis visited Jacksonville’s River Garden Hebrew Home to again tout his administration’s efforts. 

“In the state of Florida we’re putting seniors first,” DeSantis said. “We believe that our parents and grandparents need to be first in line to get the vaccine.”

Sydney Boles can be reached at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter @sydneyboles. 

Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9.