OCALA, Fla. - As local health departments struggle keep up with demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis is adding a trusted partner to the rollout plan.
Appearing at a Publix in Ocala, DeSantis announced Tuesday that the Lakeland-based grocery store chain would begin administrating 15,000 doses of the vaccine in 22 store pharmacies in across, Hernando, and Marion counties.
Reservations will be available in those counties starting on Thursday.
If successful, the trial will be expanded to the rest of Florida as more vaccine supply becomes available, DeSantis said, touting the convenience of the seemingly ubiquitous stores.
"Publix really can provide us a great mechanism to make it convenient and easily available in almost every crevice of the state of Florida," the governor said. "I don’t think you can go to too many places in Florida and not see a Publix, and I know that many of the people who shop here would fit our target age demographic of 65 and up."
Yesterday, DeSantis announced plans to convert some COVID-19 testing sites to include vaccine distribution. He also said the state will use churches as distribution points, especially in underserved communities.
Meanwhile, county health departments across the state have been overwhelmed with demand for the vaccine. Counties that were mandating reservations found their websites and phone lines jammed, while other counties using a first-come, first-served approach wound up with long lines.
The governor promised that the situation would improve soon, and urged Floridians to be patient.
"We have 4.4 million people that are age 65 and older in Florida. We do not have 4.4 million vaccine doses sitting on the shelves right now; we probably have a several hundred thousand. That just means that demand is higher than supply," he noted. "So we ask people to be patient right now. You may get an appointment this week; if not, we want to get you in as soon as possible."
A previous version of this story stated Publix would have 50,000 doses of the vaccine.