Florida to begin statewide appointment system for vaccine

Author: The Associated Press
FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right rear, watches as Carlos Dennis, left, 65, rolls up his sleeve so that Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue paramedic, Capt. Javier Crespo, can administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Florida was one of the first states to throw open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over 65, leading to rumors that tourists and day-trippers are swooping into the state solely for the jab. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Florida’s director of emergency management said Thursday that a statewide appointment system for COVID vaccinations should be ready within weeks, bringing order to the chaos marking Florida’s rollout of vaccines to its most vulnerable residents.

Director Jared Moskowitz described plans for the online portal in an appearance before a legislative house committee holding hearings on the pandemic in Tallahassee.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it a priority to provide coronavirus vaccines to seniors 65 and older, prompting a crush in demand. State health officials mostly left it to hospitals and county health departments to administer the vaccines, and some seniors camped out in long lines outside vaccination sites, only to be turned away when supplies ran out.

Since then, the governor has sought to widen the number of vaccination sites.

As of this week, more than 707,000 Floridians had at least one shot of two vaccines approved by the federal government. More than 1.5 million people have tested positive for the virus in the state since the pandemic began; nearly 24,000 have died.

With states beholden to the federal government for supplies, no one can be sure when enough vaccines will be available to meet demand.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told the Senate Health Policy Committee on Wednesday that Florida is getting about a million doses a month — suggesting that it could take many months before the general population can be fully vaccinated.

Rivkees, like the governor, has urged patience.

“This vaccine is our ray of hope,” Rivkees told the committee

Other vaccines are expected to gain federal approval in the coming months, which will surely bolster the state’s ability to vaccinate Florida’s 21.5 million residents.

The top Democrat in the state Senate, Sen. Gary Farmer, acknowledged the state is beholden to the federal government but criticized DeSantis for his “lack of leadership” in the pandemic. Farmer said the distribution of the vaccine has been in disarray because of a lack of a cohesive plan to get the shots into the arms of Floridians.

At some vaccination sites, seniors have had to be turned away because vaccine allotments had dried up. Appointment websites have crashed because of the crush in demand.

“A lot of people are asking the question: When are we going to have the vaccine, and what does the timeline look like?” asked Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican.

“Is it fair to say that at current supply, in simpleton’s terms, that at current supply, it’s a 22-month window maximum?” the senator asked.

Rivkees said he hopes other vaccines will soon come into the market to potentially speed up the timetable.

“We are very hopeful that other vaccines will follow in the near term,” Rivkees said.

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