ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With the number of coronavirus cases recently doubling between July 2 and July 9 in the Sunshine State, and cities like Jacksonville experiencing high positivity rates and hospitalizations, the governor once again emphasized the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how crafting the message to Floridians about its benefits shouldn't be matched with "scare" tactics.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis was in St. Petersburg giving a status update on the red tide response in Tampa Bay. But after, he spoke for nearly seven minutes about the positives in getting vaccinated and how he believes authorities should be advertising the vaccine.
"If you’re vaccinated and you test positive but you don’t get sick, well the name of the game is to keep people out of the hospital," DeSantis said. "Seventy-five percent of Floridians over the age of 50 have gotten shots, so we think that’s really, really positive."
The governor has been previously vocal about opposing virus-related mandates but said there is an obvious difference between the unvaccinated and vaccinated patients in the hospital.
"If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero," he said "If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality."
He reiterated that he believes the upswing in COVID-19 cases is seasonal, but those waves would impact vaccinated individuals in a "significant way."
"I get a little bit frustrated when I see some of these jurisdictions saying, ‘Even if you’re healthy and vaccinated, you must wear a mask cause we’re seeing increased cases.’
Understand what that message is sending to people who aren’t vaccinated," the governor stated. "It’s telling them that the vaccines don’t work."
DeSantis noted that the interest in getting the shot decreased as it became widely available to younger adults. The number of vaccinations administered weekly has fallen by almost 80% statewide since April even though less than 60% of the population 12 and older is fully vaccinated.
Now, it seems the unvaccinated Floridians have different reasons and it's not because they think the pandemic is a hoax, he said.
"I think that the more they’re hectored by government officials…that is not going to get them the yes. I think these are folks that have skepticism of authorities," he said. "I don’t think most of them think COVID is a hoax or anything. I think that they understand."
DeSantis went on to say the "young and healthy" are most likely avoiding the vaccine because they think they can handle a positive test result.
"If they are in a less risky category, you should just be honest with that and not try to scare people into taking it, which a lot of these authorities have done," the Florida governor explained. "They see that and I think they are very keen."
"There are occasionally some side effects," he added, "but if you’re 70 years old, man, the benefit is so much better than worrying about some of that. It’s not even close. As you get talking about young kids. Parents are going to look at that and maybe make a little bit different calculation and that is fine."
Recently, Florida began issuing coronavirus data only once a week. The Department of Health stopped reporting daily coronavirus statistics in early June at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The state now has the fourth-highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the U.S., behind Nevada, Missouri and Arkansas, according to Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist tracking the national outbreak for more than a year.
"I also have never been driven by the case counts," DeSantis explained, "because you have people who may test positive now we know who are vaccinated and so they’ll be positive but they are almost entirely not going to get a serious illness. To me, it’s about preventing the illness, not a positive test."
Dr. Frederick Southwick, chief of the University of Florida medical school’s infectious disease division, said computer simulations show the delta strain will create "a marked surge in cases over the next three months."
"The delta variant grows faster in human cells and can spread to others particularly in closed spaces even when wearing a mask," he said. "The only effective way to be protected from the delta variant is to get vaccinated."
The state’s lowest vaccinations rates are in conservative rural north Florida — in some counties, fewer than 30% of adults are vaccinated. Positivity rates in those areas, though, were the highest in the state. Liberty County reported a rate of 35.4% for the last week; Baker County was over 30%, Bay and Bradford counties were over 25%.
"These vaccines make it so that your chance of survival is pretty doggone close to 100%," DeSantis said Wednesday. "I think that’s the best message we can provide to people."
The governor's full statement on COVID-19 during Wednesday's press conference can be found below:
"Here’s I think is the most important thing with the data. If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying for COVID is effectively zero. If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.
Mortality in nursing homes, since we rolled out the vaccines in December is down over 95% due to COVID. The mortality for elderly people since we rolled out the vaccines is down nearly 90% and so we’re proud in Florida to be seniors first in that because they were the most vulnerable. We have 85% of our seniors that are vaccinated and about 75% of folks over the age of 50. We have no mandate, we’ve provided information to people and we’ve been very honest about any data that has come out. I can tell you that if you look, you are seeing people that are vaccinated – for whatever reason – some, I think, can test positive if you’re vaccinated but they don’t get seriously ill, except maybe rare instances. There’s always one-offs on stuff.
But I can tell you, in Florida, your chance of surviving, if you’re vaccinated, is close to 100% and so we worked very hard to get those vaccines into all our elderly communities and give it to other folks who could use it. Obviously, when you talk about some of the younger folks, the uptick has been less. I think the distribution was very effective that we did and I think we had a lot of good uptake on the Johnson & Johnson in March and into April. We saw a noticeable decline in the J&J when they pulled it back because of the FDA. I think it was a huge mistake. I said so at the time. And I think that sent a message that this is not something that they should be doing. I think that’s unfortunate. I took it and I think that’s effective. That is what we’re seeing.
I said this a couple months ago. I told people to get vaccinated because we have a summer season here just like last year. It started a little later this year so you’re going to have higher prevalence for the rest of July, probably into August, and then it goes back and goes through different waves.
If you’re vaccinated, those waves are not going to impact you in any significant way and I think that’s the important message for people. I get a little bit frustrated when I see some of these jurisdictions saying, ‘Even if you’re healthy and vaccinated, you must wear a mask cause we’re seeing increased cases.’ Understand what that message is sending to people who aren’t vaccinated. It’s telling them that the vaccines don’t work.
I think that’s the worst message you can send to people at this time because I think that the data has been really, really good in terms of preserving people, saving people’s lives, reducing mortality dramatically, and I can tell you that you’re going to end up having over 95% of folks that end up seriously ill --from this point on -- are going to be people who are not vaccinated.
So, that’s the single most important thing that people can understand. I understand the folks who, when we first rolled this out. Oh my gosh, it was like the new iPhone times ten. I’m going down to nursing homes, I would go to senior communities, they were so happy. There was not a demand problem. It was a supply problem.
As we got more and more, we did millions and millions of seniors and we’re really proud of that. As you got into the general public, particularly under 50, the interest in it was obviously not as intense. So we’ve done a lot of people, we’ve done millions of people who are under 50 as well but you’re in a situation now where a lot of the folks are not taking it.
It’s accessible to everyone, they have different reasons for why they don’t take it and I think that the more they’re hectored by government officials or some of these folks, that is not going to get them the yes. I think these are folks that have skepticism of authorities. I think they have different reasons why they may not do it. I don’t think most of them think COVID is a hoax or anything. I think that they understand.
Some of them are very young and healthy and they’re making the calculation that they’ll likely be able to handle it and I understand it too but as you’re trying to reach some of these folks, I think that it’s important to just be honest with them about the risks of COVID. If they are in a less risky category, you should just be honest with that and not try to scare people into taking it, which a lot of these authorities have done.
They see that and I think they are very keen on that so in my view is always been is these vaccines – and you can look at the EUAs [Emergency Use Authorizations] – there are occasionally some side effects. But if you’re 70 years old, man, the benefit is so much better than worrying about some of that. It’s not even close.
As you get talking about young kids. Parents are going to look at that and maybe make a little bit different calculation and that is fine. But just understand where we’re at, understand the benefits particularly folks who may have health conditions or who are a little older and I can tell you that the data has been very strong.
If the data wasn’t strong, then we would have to acknowledge that to people and I would be the first to want to do it. But the data has been really strong when you have these upticks. It’s affecting for things beyond cases. It’s affecting, in a clinical way, people, almost entirely, who are unvaccinated.
I also have never been driven by the case counts because you have people who may test positive now we know who are vaccinated and so they’ll be positive but they are almost entirely not going to get a serious illness. To me, it’s about preventing the illness not a positive test.
You know in the clinical trials when they did it in Pfizer and Moderna -- both of them were, I think, 95% effective about preventing a subsequent infection. But notice how they defined a case in those clinical trials. They defined a case to be either a positive test and a symptom or I think in Moderna it said if you had two identifiable symptoms that could be a case. Neither of them said just a positive test with no symptoms counted as a case and so some people are saying, ‘Well they said 95% you wouldn’t get quote, infected.’
Some of the folks that have tested positive literally just have a positive test and don’t have any symptoms and so for me, I’m interested in the clinical outcomes here. And I think that viewing it as: Are you symptomatic? Are you going to be a hospital admission? Are you going to be in intensive care? Obviously, is your life going to be threatened? Those are the key things.
These vaccines make it so that your chance of survival is pretty doggone close to 100%. I think that’s the best message we can provide to people."