A tray of COVID-19 vaccine vials. Credit: Getty Images.
COVID vaccine distribution through Walgreens pharmacies will expand from the existing 12 to 97 stores statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday, adding that he expects people aged 55 and above to be eligible for the shots by the end of March.
That’s a significant expansion of use of retail pharmacies to administer vaccine, the governor said during a news conference in a CVS pharmacy in Jacksonville. The chain is participating in a Biden administration program sending 1 million doses per week to participating pharmacies, as Forbes has reported.
“We think we’re going to be able expand even more next week, and we’ll have an announcement about that. I think what we’ll have is, pretty much any community with a decent size, there’s going to be multiple retail options for you to be able to go in and do it.”
DeSantis expects to start vaccinating 55-and-ups “relatively soon,” he said.
“Once we do the 55-and-up, we probably would be able to really open it up more broadly if the supply continues on the way we’re doing. These pharmacies are really going to play the dominant role in getting the shots into the arms.”
The state also is administering vaccines through hospitals, county health clinics, churches, drive-through sites, and a variety of vaccine “pods,” or points of distribution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is administering up to 3,000 doses each over and above the state’s allotment to underserved communities through walk-up sites in Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. The feds haven’t followed DeSantis’ seniors-first approach, instead allowing doses to school employees of all ages.
DeSantis has drawn criticism for seeming to target vaccines to areas benefiting his political supporters but has waved such concerns aside.
Florida is targeting older people because they’re more vulnerable to serious complications or death. Younger people can get shots if they suffer any medical condition that renders them “extremely vulnerable” to serious complications or death from the coronavirus under an executive order signed by DeSantis.
He’s also opened vaccination to younger police, firefighters, and school employees.
By his count, the state is administering doses through 158 CVS pharmacies, 730 Publix pharmacies, 119 Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs, and 43 Winn Dixie stores.
Close to 3 million of Florida’s 4.5 million senior citizens have received doses, the governor said.
At the moment, some vaccine sites are seeing appointments go unfilled, DeSantis said. Officials have noted that demand tends to fall once a county has vaccinated around two-thirds of the eligible population, which allows the state to open the eligibility pool to younger people — especially considering that some people take a pass on the shots, he added.
“Every year you go down in age, there’s a touch less demand for it. But we’re going to get a sense of the sign-ups there and see where it’s at. But if the supply continues going good, I think for sure we’re going to the 55 in age in March. And, hopefully, sooner rather than later.”
Pharmacies have distributed all three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — although supplies of that last have dried up and DeSantis said he doesn’t expect to take delivery of any doses of it next week.
In Lake City earlier in the day, the governor defended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which research shows is less efficacious than the Pfizer and Moderna models. He said most patients are happy to receive the J&J shot, however.
“When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved, I was really excited about it. Some of the media was saying, ‘Oh, it’s not as effective.’ And, if you looked at the clinical data, it was 100 percent effective at preventing death and serious hospitalization. You may have a little bit more chance to get a mild infection, but I mean, come on, this is a really good thing. One dose and you’re done.”
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