#Editorial: Efficient Plans Needed for Vaccinating Floridians

A box of vials of the Moderna vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus on display during a press conference with Florida governor Ron DeSantis touting the expanded rollout of the state vaccination program, at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, Fla., Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Despite the widespread optimism with which Americans welcomed 2021, it was nonetheless accepted that an unfortunate carryover from 2020 would be the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As 2020 ended, there was stark evidence of rising cases and related deaths from the pandemic. But there was a reason for hope with the news of the approval of two COVID-19 vaccines in December. 

But as the reality of the new year settles, it’s sadly evident that the mismanagement within the Trump administration, and also the Ron DeSantis administration in Florida, that surrounded the efforts to control COVID-19 from it first was identified in the U.S. in February 2020, has extended to the management of distributing and applying the vaccine to Americans.

In the summer of 2020, the Trump administration, to its credit, rolled out “Operation Warp Speed” an initiative to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. But it seems while officials within the administration focused on pushing the pharmaceuticals and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to produce and authorize a vaccine, little thought was given to the logistics of distribution and application of the vaccine to millions of Americans.

When the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna were finally approved by the FDA and ready to be distributed, the Trump administration proudly announced 20 million Americans would receive either vaccine by December 31, 2020. This has proven to be an unrealistic projection. As of January 4, only 4.6 million people have been vaccinated. Several states, including Florida, complained of not receiving the doses of vaccines promised by the federal government, despite the huge publicity given to those who first received the vaccine.

Reacting to the state’s complaints, and President-elect Joe Biden’s criticism for the slow distribution of the vaccine to the states, President Trump passed the blame on to the states. “The administration has distributed the vaccine,” Trump tweeted. “Now it is up to states to administer. Get moving!”

The issue is that the states have not received enough vaccines, nor do they have sufficient funds to “get moving.” Additionally, there is no national plan to distribute the vaccine in the midst of a grave national health crisis, and no evidence of plans for states—like Florida—to distribute even the insufficient vaccines they received. 

Florida received only 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and, days later, 127,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Obviously, 300,000 doses of vaccine were insufficient to meet Florida’s demand—with the state being third in contracted COVID-19 cases nationally.

Moreover, while CDC regulations for the application of the vaccines identified emergency workers as being among the priority groups to get the vaccine, DeSantis, in his bombastic wisdom, announced that following hospital and medical workers, the next group to receive the vaccine in Florida would be seniors over age 65. Granted, it could be assumed DeSantis made the decision based on the fact seniors are the group most vulnerable to the virus. 

But DeSantis had no plan for applying the scarce doses of vaccines to over three million Florida residents over age 65. South Florida counties quickly seized the initiative to plan vaccinating seniors. Broward County set up a telephone line so seniors could call to make vaccine appointments, but the line was, not surprisingly, overwhelmed with calls and people could not get through. 

A similar situation occurred in Palm Beach County, where another phone line for seniors to make such appointments was described as “a total mess.” On Tuesday, the Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County launched a website for people 65 and older to make vaccination appointments. 

Wouldn’t it be better if the general South Florida community had a comprehensive vaccination plan?

Broward County health officials announced appointments made by seniors to be vaccinated extend to February. This means the most vulnerable residents will continue to be exposed to COVID-19 for months unless the federal government moves with utmost urgency to access and distribute more vaccine doses, and states make copious, sensible plans to distribute vaccines as they are received.

Biden named the top health officials in his incoming administration weeks ago. Hopefully, these officials are involved in planning strategies for extending testing for the virus, acquiring and distributing more vaccines, and getting more people vaccinated. 

Vaccinating the estimated 260 million Americans the CDC says are eligible for the vaccine is a major task. The national plan requires collaboration between federal and state governments, and between state, county, and city governments. 

Biden has said his plan is to vaccinate one million Americans daily this year. Sounds good, but such projections require making pragmatic plans for its realistic execution—which one hopes Biden is making.

As millions of nervous Americans wait to be vaccinated, it cannot be emphasized enough that plans to acquire, distribute, and apply these vaccinations efficiently are overdue.

 

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