COVID vaccine plan targets older Floridians, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get the shots anytime soon

Gov. Ron DeSantis explains his COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan during a news conference at a drive-through injection site in Vero Beach on Jan. 7, 2021. Source: Screenshot governor's Facebook page

Looking at the old folks crowded together in lines or lawn chairs camping overnight as they worriedly await the possibility of a vaccination that could save them from a deadly virus, I wonder how many of them risk catching the virus they are trying to defeat.

Florida has done a pitiful job of rolling out the millions of doses of vaccine promised by President Donald J. Trump and his “mini me,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

They seem surprised that some of us over 65 years old actually might want to live without catching COVID-19. Floridians are taking to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media seeking appointments to get the vaccine.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Florida Gov. Bob Graham and his wife, Adele, posted on Twitter a picture of her parents, saying they had been unable to even get an appointment for the vaccine. Graham is 84 and his wife is 82, well above the minimum age eligible to get the shots.

“I am trying to help them get the COVID vaccine,’’ Gwen Graham tweeted. “I signed them up thru their local county health department. No clue as to next steps. Florida has no plan to get seniors vaccinated.’’

At our house, we clutch the telephones whenever we move from room to room, awaiting the call to join a line at the Leon County Health Department or our family doctor’s office — whoever calls first.

With a husband who just turned 90 and my own advancing years, we are pretty sure we are dead if we catch the virus. We aren’t through living and would like to stick around, if only to annoy a few politicians.

So we wait. We go to the grocery store and an occasional doctor’s appointment and husband Richard takes a short walk in the neighborhood most days, but we are mostly in the company of cats. Willie and Johnny are 7 years old now and oblivious to the virus. They obviously think we are staying home to serve them.

Many of us spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays without family members at all. Our daughter noted that this was the first time in her 62 years of life she was not with us. These are days we will never get back.

While our president spent the holidays chasing a golf ball with his pals in Palm Beach, thousands of senior citizens lined up at vaccination sites. Many were sent home without a shot after they ran out.

In Fort Lauderdale, hundreds of senior citizens slept in their cars overnight in frigid temperatures to get a good spot in line morning after morning. Roads leading to the vaccination sites were jammed with lines of cars. At times, people were waiting three or four hours to get to the front of the lines, not an easy wait when there are no necessary facilities around to use.

In Daytona Beach, they brought pillows and blankets for the overnight wait.

The politicians are urging patience as they await more little vials of medicine. Patience may be hard to come by in an aging population filled with preexisting conditions that could make them much more vulnerable to a deadly virus. It’s a strange situation when we have to decide whether a hug or a trip to the grocery store is worth the risk of catching COVID-19.

We have friends who have barely left their homes for nine months. Some have never met grandchildren who are turning a year old. Others have not been able to hug their children or parents in nursing homes in a country which has long taken pride in providing its citizens with good health care.

Instead, our president and governor have worked hard to ignore the virus and its impact on all of us. Only when embarassed by a little bad publicity do they try to do something. Trump has essentially ignored the growing number of sick and dead citizens.

DeSantis began to get busy only after frantic senior citizens jammed the roads to vaccine centers and a brief confrontation with a CNN reporter who questioned his vaccine distribution plan. The news clip that was broadcast after DeSantis berated reporter Rosa Flores was viewed more than 3 million times in 14 hours, a good indication of how many people are concerned.  Flores got a good dose of gubernatorial rudeness from him but it was quite revealing to Floridians who are watching.

On Wednesday, as Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol with guns and other weapons and halted a joint session of Congress considering Electoral College votes, Florida reported a record breaking 17,783 new cases of COVID-19 — a total of more than more than 361,000 Americans have died from the virus.

This is not getting any better.

Lucy Morgan
Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.