Gov. DeSantis on COVID vaccine: ‘What you don’t want the government to do is to try to displace our health care infrastructure’

Gov. Ron DeSantis poses with senior citizens who'd just received COVID vaccine at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola on Jan. 6, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday defended his management of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, noting that demand for the shots far exceeds supply, but promised a smoother process as more vaccine arrives.

During a news conference at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, where Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital was dispensing vaccine to senior citizens, DeSantis remarked that reservations to receive 2,000 doses over two days had been filled within two hours.

The Milton Community Center also is participating in the initiative.

“I think what will happen as we kind of continue on is that the demand will start to be met, the demand will go down a little bit, the supplies will start to go up, and that means we’re going to continue to look for more innovative ways to be able to deliver it to the people — particularly the people who need it most, our senior citizens,” the governor said.

DeSantis won a vote of confidence from Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer, a member of the state Cabinet and northwest Florida resident. Both are Republicans.

“Gov. DeSantis has been working tirelessly to push the vaccination out, to see it first-hand, and if it means going to every single corner of the state to ensure that this is part of a smooth-flowing process, that our citizens are being protected, that’s exactly what he’s doing,” he said.

Patronis also called for legislative action, to protect employers.

“We need to tell the Legislature that we need COVD liability protection for our businesses. And not just for our businesses — it’s for our not-for profits and for our health care providers. It’s critical that we see this happen in the coming legislative session,” Patronis said.

DeSantis has earmarked initial supplies — after all the health care workers and nursing home residents who want the shots get them — for people 65 and older.

The state is not distributing the vaccines directly; rather, the federal government is shipping supplies to hospitals, pharmacies, and public health clinics identified by the state.

The Florida Democratic Party recently complained of “impossibly long lines and confusing systems” related to vaccine administration, including elderly people who camped out overnight in hopes of being first in line the next morning. On Monday, DeSantis lashed out at a reporter who tried to ask him about the problems.

Additionally, news reports indicate that wealthy non-residents have exploited their connections to gain access to vaccine in Florida before their turn.

On Tuesday night, DeSantis told Fox News that he wears media criticism as “a badge of honor.”

On Wednesday, DeSantis again defended the distribution system, saying that the state is shifting supplies from facilities that can’t immediately arrange to distribute them to those that can. Stocks at slow facilities can be restored later, he said.

“What you don’t want the government to do is to try to displace our health care infrastructure that we have here. They know that they’re doing. They know how to distribute this,” the governor said.

“This is scaling up. You’re going to start to see it. The hospitals are in a good stride now. Look, at the end of the day, when you get a vaccine dropped on your doorstep right before Christmas … that’s not the best time to get it in terms of staffing and everything like that,” he said.

“There are going to be a lot of shots going into arms. We’ll do way more shots this week than we did last week.”

DeSantis did acknowledge that using websites for vaccine registration might not be the best strategy for senior citizens — who tend not to be comfortable with that medium.

“It’s an absolutely valid concern,” he said, and the state, hospitals, and other venues are adding workers to take reservations over the telephone.

DeSantis firmly rejected any possibility that he would impose any mask mandate or business closures, notwithstanding the upsurge in infections.

As of Monday, when the Florida Department of Health last updated its publicly available data, Florida had seen nearly 1.4 million infections, 62,882 hospitalizations, and 22,188 deaths of state residents.

“We will categorically not allow any local government to lock people down. We will not allow any local government to kick anybody out of their job. We will not allow any local government to fine individual Floridians. We will not allow any local government to shut down schools,” the governor said.

Rather, he argued, vaccine is “the most effective tool we have to battle the pandemic.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.