Pitfalls of Florida’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

For a state that was so quick to reach Phase 3 of reopening after the national lockdown in 2020, Florida is comparatively at quite a standstill for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

As vaccine availability ramps up across the nation, there is an unspoken race to reach herd immunity. With other states making substantial headway in ending this pandemic once and for all, citizens and public health experts alike are concerned about Florida’s equivocal COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Florida has fully vaccinated 21.4% of the state population. This puts the state at 38th place among the rest of the United States. Although Florida is the third-largest state by population size, the statistics for vaccine distribution efficiency are more considerate of population factors. Still, Florida is in 38th place for efficiency and only twelve states and the District of Columbia have a lower percentage of doses administered. Populous or not, it is clear that Florida is lagging in the road to recovery.

In terms of COVID-19 prevalence, Florida still has the 8th highest positivity rate at 10.0% positive. Both California and Texas are larger in population size, but they have positivity rates of 1.9% and 6.4%, respectively.

From an organizational standpoint, Florida’s COVID-19 vaccination plan consists of Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 includes persons ages 40+, health care personnel with direct patient contact, long-term care staff and residents, individuals extremely at risk of contracting COVID-19, and teachers under 50 at certain vaccination sites. Phase 2 covers the general public over 16 years of age. This agenda is overly simplified considering that Florida has over 21 million residents.

California, on the other hand, has a multifaceted COVID-19 vaccination plan segmented into Phase 1a, 1b tiers 1–3 and Phase 2. The intricacy of California’s vaccine distribution strategy has been conducive to battling the spread of the virus among more than 40 million residents.

The state government of Florida remains fixated on their prioritization of senior citizens, but the rest is unclear. To the surprise of many, Gov. Ron DeSantis received an overwhelming amount of praise for his lack of specificity.

DeSantis claimed that Florida is better off without a detailed vaccination plan. He “criticized other states for updating their plans over time,” taking pride in his consistency. This consistency, however, stems from his persevering lack of clarity throughout the entire situation.

Following suit of the politicization that this global pandemic has faced, DeSantis’s efforts point to an ulterior motive of personal gain as the 2022 Florida gubernatorial election draws closer.

A text exchange between Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Rex Jensen revealed the primary rationale of the Lakewood vaccination pop-up site. Jensen texted Baugh “Should try to see if that would help [DeSantis] get exposure here,” to which Baugh responded “Excellent point. After all, ’22 is right around the corner.”

In addition, the pop-up site in Manatee County quickly received criticism in that DeSantis set aside an abundance of vaccines for the wealthiest, whitest, most Republican neighborhoods in Manatee. DeSantis tried to refute this public sentiment by stating that certain partisan news media were going against the vaccination of wealthy, Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

Although vaccination opened up to individuals of age 16 or older starting on April 5, the lack of clarity in Florida’s vaccination agenda continues to cause turbulence in reaching herd immunity. With the state submerged in ambiguity, there are still gaps in vaccination persisting within age groups that were already eligible before. The expansion of COVID-19 vaccines to the general public is more of a rushed band-aid solution for Florida rather than the next appropriate milestone that it serves as in other states.

Featured image: COVID-19 vaccine syringe and serum in pharmaceutical packaging. Photo: Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.com / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://bit.ly/2RyXeGv).

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