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DeSantis: Florida Vaccine Eligibility Drops To 60 And Older On Monday

Stephanie Colombini / WUSF
Currently, the only people younger than 65 who can get the vaccine in Florida are those with certain underlying health conditions, health workers and school staff and first responders ages 50 and older.

The expected move comes as competition for appointments seems to have relaxed across the state. FEMA-supported sites have been welcoming walk-ins, often with short waits.

Starting this Monday (March 15), people ages 60 and older in Florida will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was lowering the age to qualify for a shot during a press conference on Monday in Tallahassee.

This comes as competition for appointments seems to have relaxed across the state. Federally supported sites in cities like Tampa have been welcoming walk-ins, often with short wait times in the afternoons and evenings.

And counties like Pinellas that used to see reservations fill up within minutes have also reported more availability.

DeSantis cited softened demand statewide as his reason for expanding eligibility.

“We want to make sure that all these appointments are filled up, we want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get a vaccine who may be at increased risk,” he said.

Under the lower age limit, about 1.4 million more Floridians will be qualified for vaccinations.

More than 56 percent of seniors in the state have received at least one dose of vaccine, DeSantis said, adding that the number could be higher as there's usually a lag in reporting.

DeSantis also railed against the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package, passed Friday by the Senate and expected to be voted upon Tuesday by the House.

He said the package rewards states that are continuing to struggle to contain the outbreak while penalizing states like Florida that have been faring better. DeSantis called on the federal government to revise the distribution model, arguing that money should be doled out on a per-capita basis.

Regarding vaccines, DeSantis continues to base risk primarily on age and COVID-19 mortality rates as opposed to occupation. He said the state will continue to expand eligibility by five-year age brackets over time.

Public health experts like Jay Wolfson with the University of South Florida celebrated the expansion but acknowledged it may not make everyone happy.

He said other groups of people also deserve consideration for vaccine access, like front-facing workers including grocery store employees and members of the service industry who are more likely to be exposed to the virus than some older people in the general population.

Wolfson said other experts are making a case for young people to get vaccinated, as they are the biggest spreaders.

Still, he's not surprised DeSantis is prioritizing older adults.

"This is a very senior-rich state, so I think there's a political part of it, there's an optics part of it, and there's the reality that the at-risk population tended to be, for dying, the elderly," Wolfson said.

Seniors, health workers, people with certain underlying conditions and K-12 school staff, law enforcement and firefighters over the age of 50 can continue to sign up for shots.

Pre-K-12 school staff of all ages can also get vaccinated at federally supported sites around the state.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.