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DeSantis: COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritized to communities that can quickly vaccinate

Jim Little
Pensacola News Journal

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will prioritize sending COVID-19 vaccines to hospitals in communities that are able to move more quickly to get the vaccine distributed in the 65 and older population.

"We are also taking an active role and making sure the vaccine is distributed in places that are using it most effectively," DeSantis said Wednesday during a visit to Pensacola. "So we have pulled back from some places. If they tell us they can't get it all out for two weeks, we know we're going to get more vaccine next week, so we take that, and then we do it."

DeSantis made the comments while speaking at a mass vaccination clinic held at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola organized by Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital.

The governor has faced criticism for the roll-out of Florida's vaccine program, as the state has left it up to individual health care providers for distributing the vaccine.

In the latest report from the Department of Health, 287,776 Floridians have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

► Ascension Sacred Heart to hold another day of mass vaccinations in Pensacola and Milton

► Mass COVID-19 vaccinations roll out this week in Pensacola, Milton. How to register:

► COVID-19 vaccines in Escambia and Santa Rosa: How to sign up for an appointment

DeSantis praised the clinic being offered in Pensacola on Wednesday — which was part of two locations, one in Escambia County and one in Santa Rosa County — and said he hopes it becomes a model for other health care providers to follow in providing mass vaccinations.

The Pensacola clinic was being conducted in the church's gymnasium, where 1,000 people were expected to be vaccinated throughout the day. The registration was online through the hospital's website, and walk-ups were not allowed. 

In Santa Rosa County, the vaccine was being offered at the Milton Community Center, also by appointment only.

At least 3,500 vaccines will be given to people 65 and over at the Milton and Pensacola clinics, which began on Tuesday and run through Thursday.

DeSantis said the clinic was an example of reaching beyond the hospital setting.

"Some of the hospitals are having people go in the hospital, which is great. There's some folks that just don't want to go into the hospital, but they are going to grocery stores," DeSantis said. "And so if you're able to get to the grocery store, you can get that done. And that's a really, really good thing."

DeSantis did not indicate which communities he felt were struggling to distribute the vaccines effectively.

DeSantis announced Tuesday a pilot program to offer the vaccine at Publix grocery stores mostly in Central Florida, but said Wednesday he hopes it can be expanded in the coming weeks.

"What you don't want the government to do is to try to displace our health care infrastructure that we have here," DeSantis said. "They know what they're doing, they know how to deliver this."

DeSantis reiterated the state's commitment to prioritizing the vaccine for people 65 and older, saying he believed getting the vaccine distributed in that age group will be the most effective way to fight back against the pandemic.

"If we continue to vaccinate senior citizens, you are going to reduce the ceiling for hospitalizations, you absolutely will, because those are the folks who are most likely to get hospitalized," DeSantis said. "You will reduce the mortality rate, because obviously, the mortality has been so concentrated in the 65 and plus. So this is why we're really focused on this."

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.