DeSantis tells hospitals to administer COVID-19 vaccines or lose them

As seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccination sites and frustrations mounted over their inability to make appointments for life-saving injections, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Florida hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work more quickly to administer vaccines to Floridians who are 65 and older.

"The light's at the end of the tunnel," DeSantis said during a news conference in Orlando on Monday, adding that hospitals that don't meet vaccination goals will see their allotment of vaccines reduced and redistributed to other providers.

"I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm," he said.

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DeSantis has ordered hospitals to inform state officials on how they plan to offer vaccinations to the public.

Mary Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said the state's hospitals were "working tirelessly" to serve the community and roll out the vaccinations.

"Hospitals are absolutely committed to efficiently administering the vaccines," Mayhew said, noting that "the vast majority of the vaccine just arrived within the last week and a half prior to two holidays."

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As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders — although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older, who the governor has made a key demographic for vaccinations.

The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines -- which means that some 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers awaiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians.

Both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later. Some hospitals, out of caution, may be reluctant to immediately use their entire stockpile because of uncertainty over the future supply of the vaccines.

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The governor's push to roll out the vaccines suggests he is confident the state will get an adequate supply in future deliveries to complete the necessary rounds of booster shots.

More than 82% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65.

Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million population 65 years or older.

The governor spoke at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, where 4,000 people were expected to be vaccinated by day’s end.

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During his news conference, DeSantis said he intends to convert some COVID-19 testing sites to vaccination sites, recruit places of worship in underserved communities to help vaccinate seniors of color and hire 1,000 more nurses to help with injections.

"We believe the sooner the better, there’s no time to waste," he said.

Still, the rollout to the senior citizens has been fraught with complications, especially in larger counties.

Various county health departments had challenges and problems in their online reservations system on Monday. Pinellas County opened its reservation system at noon, but the portal experienced trouble at that time. In Hillsborough County, the registration website for seniors wanting the COVID-19 vaccine had crashed apparently due to the high volume of traffic.

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In Broward County, the signup website crashed repeatedly. On Monday, the county’s health department said all of its slots — 26,465 of them — for people 65 and older are full for now.

On Sunday, the state Department of Health reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases. About 7,000 people are currently hospitalized. According to state health statistics, some 1.36 million people have contracted the virus, and 21,987 have died.