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1,000 Long-Term Care Facilities Need Vaccine To Meet DeSantis' Sunday Goal

Governor Ron DeSantis announced the Sunday goal during a press conference in Jacksonville.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the Sunday goal during a press conference in Jacksonville.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state will offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all residents and staff at long-term care facilities by Sunday, but nearly 1,000 facilities have yet to receive vaccines.

The state must distribute COVID-19 vaccines to more than 1,000 assisted living facilities if it intends to reach the governor’s goal of a Sunday deadline.

“By the end of this month, a COVID-19 vaccine will have been offered to every resident and staff member at all of Florida’s nearly 4,000 long-term care facilities,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday during a press conference in Jacksonville.

The Agency for Health Care Administration on Tuesday said vaccines had been distributed to 99 percent or 687 of Florida’s 695 nursing homes. However, assisted living facilities are lagging.

As of Monday, 2,086 out of the state’s 3,137 assisted living facilities were offered vaccinations.

Reaching the remaining 1,051 facilities in less than a week will be an ambitious undertaking, said Brian Lee, director of the advocacy group Families for Better Care.

“It’s going to take a major logistics working to offer all of those facilities a vaccine to all of the residents in the next week or so,” Lee said. “If the government does accomplish that, it would be a Herculean effort to make that happen.”

In late December, the federal government contracted with pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens to conduct vaccinations at elder care facilities, including in Florida. CVS and Walgreens stopped providing those inoculations on Friday.

Beginning Saturday, vaccinations at long-term care facilities were taken over by a state-run program. DeSantis said he brought in “additional support” by contracting with CDR Health to speed up the vaccination effort in these facilities.

Though the state has provided the number of facilities that have been offered vaccinations, it’s been less forthcoming about the number of people at those facilities who have been vaccinated.

Lee says the state should provide that data.

“The information and data has been a bit too shrouded,” Lee said. “We have daily reporting on outbreaks in facilities. What we should have is a similar report about those nursing homes and assisted living facilities and other long-term care operations where those vaccines have been deployed and the percentage of people who have been vaccinated.”

More than 9,000 residents of long-term care facilities have died due to complications from COVID-19. That’s about 35% of the roughly 26,000 people who have died from the disease in Florida.

“That has been where we have seen the greatest mortalities,” DeSantis said. “By their very nature, their age, and some of their underlying health statuses, it makes them more vulnerable to severe health outcomes from COVID.”

Lee applauded DeSantis’ push to vaccinate the state’s most vulnerable, but says the work is not over.

“It’s exceptional leadership by the governor to prioritize the populations in these facilities,” Lee said. “But before we start patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, let’s make sure that the job is done.”

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states prioritize vaccine distribution to health care workers, first responders and residents of elder care facilities.

DeSantis went against CDC recommendations and opened vaccinations to anyone 65 and older, which resulted in criticism from those working and living in long-term care facilities who could not access the vaccine.

“The initial rollout was a little bumpy,” Lee said. “There’s been a problem with this vaccine deployment -- it’s something we still have to continue to watch to make sure that the vaccine is being offered.”

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Jacob Wentz