As Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines during a Wednesday news conference, fewer than half of Floridians have been fully vaccinated — problematic because cases are rising, spurred by more contagious variants.
The governor was in St. Petersburg discussing red tide issues, but veered off topic when a reporter asked about the status of the COVID pandemic.
“Here’s what I think is the most important thing with the data: if you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero…and so, these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
The governor also said that most people being admitted to hospitals are not fully vaccinated.
According to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not even half of Floridians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The data show that 47.9 percent of Florida’s population are fully vaccinated, slightly lower than the nationwide average of 48.8 percent.
Not counting U.S. territories, 20 states and the District of Columbia are at 50 percent or higher for vaccinations in their states, according to the CDC.
Of concern is that more than half of Floridians are at risk of contracting COVID and could potentially suffer severe illness because they are unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, a more transmissible variant of COVID, referred to as the Delta variant, threatens the situation further.
In Florida, the more transmissible Delta variant accounts for 36.1 percent of new COVID cases, according to CDC data. In the past, the United Kingdom variant had been the most prevalent in Florida, but now that’s changed.
Nationwide, the Delta variant now accounts for 83.2 percent of new COVID cases, according to the CDC.
DeSantis reiterated his belief that the rise in cases are due to a seasonal surge. And he did not mention the impact of the Delta variant in Florida, though COVID cases are rising.
As of July 20, Florida cases have spiked to 8,988, according to daily cases from CDC data. That’s higher than the last five days, all which were in the 8000s. In early July, the figures were in the 2000s.
“I said this a couple months ago — I told people to get vaccinated because we have a summer season here, just like last year,” DeSantis said at the Wednesday press conference. “It started a little later this year. So, you’re going to have more prevalence for the rest of July, probably into August. And then it goes back and goes in different waves. If you’re vaccinated, those waves are not going to impact you in any significant way. And I think that’s the important message for people.”
DeSantis spoke of initiatives taken back in December to prioritize senior citizens and the elderly, saying that 85 percent of the senior population was vaccinated for COVID, and that younger people were less interested in getting a COVID vaccine. (CDC data show 79.5 percent of residents 65 and older were fully vaccinated.)
“I don’t think most of them think COVID is a hoax or anything,” he said. “I think that they understand, some of them are very young and healthy, and they’re making the calculations that they’ll likely be able to handle it, and I understand that too.”
He continued: “But as you’re trying to reach some of these folks, I think it’s important to be honest with them about the risks of COVID. If they are in a less risky category, you should just be honest with them about that, and not try to scare people into taking it, which a lot of these authorities have done. They see that, and I think that they’re very keen on that.”
Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.