Gov. DeSantis shares plans to deliver COVID vaccines, but state will not mandate that Floridians take them

During a video announcement on Nov. 19, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis shared plans to distribute COVID vaccines and therapeutic treatments. Source: governor's Facebook page

Florida hospitals should begin receiving vaccines targeting COVID-19 within three to six weeks, with the first doses dedicated to residents of long-term care facilities, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday.

That timeline is contingent upon approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of promising vaccines developed by Pfizer and Modena, both of which reportedly are around 95 percent effective against the coronavirus, the governor said.

Some 40 million doses will be available nationally by the end of December, he added. More than 300 million people live in the United States, however, and it’s not certain when all residents, including those who aren’t health care workers, first responders, or long-term care residents, will get access to the vaccines.

And, in some cases, families will refuse to take the vaccines, part of a movement that rejects such immunizations. However, wide acceptance of the vaccines is critical to controlling the virus, according to medical experts.

“Our goal is to make all safe and effective COVID vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the state will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines. That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian,” DeSantis said in a videotaped announcement.

“I do believe that these breakthroughs represent probably the greatest rays of hope that we have seen since the pandemic began. They offer the prospect of saving thousands and thousands of lives, and to potentially bring this pandemic to an end.”

DeSantis traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for briefings about the vaccine rollout with officials including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine program chief Paul Ostrowski, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Commission head Stephen Hawn.

Thursday’s announcement came amid dissent from DeSantis’ refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate against COVID or to allow local governments to punish people who refuse to wear them in public.

Also on Tuesday, DeSantis participated in state House and Senate organizational sessions which lacked at least seven members who’ve been infected. Earlier in the summer and fall, other lawmakers were infected as well.

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health on Thursday reflect 914,333 infections in Florida and nearly 18,000 deaths of residents.

Meanwhile, concern has been growing that President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat to Democrat Joe Biden and begin the transition between administrations could hobble the national campaign against COVID. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged Trump to let go.

DeSantis also focused Thursday on a therapy involving a “monoclonal antibody cocktail.” That involves administering antibodies derived from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID and from lab mice that have been engineered to have a human immune system.

The cocktail attacks coronavirus surface spike proteins that attach to human cells, blocking infection, according to the journal Science.

It was among the therapies administered to President Trump during his COVID treatment. The FDA has approved a version made by Eli Lilly for emergency use.

“Data from clinical trials found a 70 percent reduction in hospitalized patients who utilized this treatment,” DeSantis said.

“We also know that a similar cocktail is being developed by the company Regeneron. That is currently pending before the FDA for emergency use authorization. We think that may also come in the relatively near future. Of course, that would also mean more supply of this particular treatment for folks,” he said.

The feds have sent more than 3,000 doses of the Eli Lilly product to Florida hospitals, DeSantis added. “This has arrived just within the past few days, and they plan on sending a similar amount every week for the foreseeable future.”

Planning for vaccine distribution began in July. Since then, the state has purchased 5 million syringes, 5 million needles, and 5 million alcohol swabs, the governor said.

In addition to hospitals, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies will receive doses for nursing home residents. ”So far, nearly 2,000 long-term care facilities have registered so that they can start getting their residents vaccinated as soon as the vaccine arrives,” DeSantis said.

One complication is that the Pfizer vaccine needs to be transported and stored at ultra-cold temperatures, but the state has identified five hospital systems with the necessary equipment. They include Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, AdventHealth Orlando, Tampa General Hospital, and UF Health Jacksonville, according to South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“The Moderna vaccine can be used in normal refrigeration and does not require those extreme low temperatures. That will potentially provide more flexibility,” DeSantis said.