Health Care

Florida’s DeSantis to prioritize seniors for next vaccine doses

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Florida will ensure seniors who don’t live in long-term care facilities are the first members of the general public to receive doses of a coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Wednesday.

During a news conference, DeSantis said he plans to sign an executive order that will prioritize seniors over the age of 65 for the next doses, rather than essential workers.

“We want to work to get this out to our senior population. We think that’s very important to reducing mortality, reducing the number of people that need to be hospitalized for COVID-19,” DeSantis said.

The move breaks with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommended that people over age 75, as well as essential workers not in health care, such as police officers, grocery store workers, teachers and meatpacking plant employees receive the vaccine as part of “phase 1b.”

The CDC prioritized health care workers and nursing home residents in the first round of vaccinations, and states mostly adopted the same guidelines.

But with limited doses, states and public health officials are being forced to ration the shots to very specific populations.

Some states outline specific subgroups in their plans, while others rely on front-line employers, like hospitals, to make the determinations of who should be at the front of the line. 

Regardless of priorities, the vaccinations will take time.

Florida has more than 4 million people in the over-65 age group, DeSantis said, and advised people to be patient.

“We don’t have enough vaccine to do everyone 65 and older in Florida at this moment. We have vaccine doses in the hundreds of thousands,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said he doesn’t want to prioritize vaccinating younger people, even if they work “essential” jobs, over someone who is older. 

“It makes no sense for someone that’s 42 to jump ahead of somebody that’s 70,” DeSantis said. “I want to make sure that if there’s one dose here in Pensacola left for this week, I want it to go to an elderly [person].”

DeSantis said once a hospital finishes vaccinating front-line medical workers, the attention should immediately be given to seniors over age 65.

He did not give a timeline as to when that might be accomplished, but noted that since some county health departments are beginning to receive small amounts of vaccines, they will start on the 65 and older group as early as next Monday.

So far, about 70,000 shots have been administered to front-line health care workers and seniors in long-term care facilities in Florida, DeSantis said. 

Florida is not alone in breaking with CDC guidance for the second round of vaccinations, but states don’t have to follow what the agency recommends. There is no federal mandate on vaccination priorities.

For example, Texas announced this week that it is also prioritizing those 65 years and older in “phase 1b,” but also those who are considered high risk because of certain medical conditions, such as cancer, obesity, a heart condition or Type 2 diabetes.

“The focus on people who are age 65 and older or who have co-morbidities will protect the most vulnerable populations,” said Imelda Garcia, chair of Texas’s vaccine allocation panel and associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services at the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from COVID-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work,” Garcia said

The state is not prioritizing teachers, agricultural workers or other “essential” workers until there is more supply.

Massachusetts is putting prisoners and corrections officers in its first round of vaccine recipients, because they work and reside in congregate settings. The first round will include first responders such as police officers and firefighters, as well as health workers.

“It’s easy to do, to discount the value of prisoners. But they’re in congregate settings. The virus gets in, they don’t have a lot of choices. They are beholden to their keepers,” said John Grabenstein, general manager of the consulting service Vaccine Dynamics.

Experts say it’s not unreasonable for states to deviate from what CDC recommends, and they understand officials are wrestling with thorny ethical issues.  

States value different populations — some will prioritize stopping the spread of the virus, while others will prioritize limiting the death toll. More states are expected to deviate from the CDC suggestions in the future.

“I think that speaks to the quandary of how to balance these things simultaneously with limited doses, the risk of exposure and its consequences, versus the … morbidity and mortality,” said Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization for the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

“With limited supply, I think that’s why the governors welcome the overall framework. They can work within it, or maybe choose differently, but at least that’s the starting point,” Gellin said.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Florida Ron DeSantis Vaccines

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