DeSantis touts lack of vaccine plan as study finds more than 95,000 Floridians may die without one

Gov. Ron DeSantis defended Florida’s open-ended vaccine plan. Then a data firm predicted "complete chaos"

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published February 25, 2021 5:11PM (EST)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis  (Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

At a news conference on Wednesday, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis defended Florida's failure to publish an official vaccine distribution plan, making it the only state with such an oversight according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation

"If you notice, a lot of [states] adopted plans, and then they've already had to change the plans," DeSantis said. "We haven't done that."

He echoed that defense on Thursday: "I would point out, people say, 'Oh, well these other states have all these plans of when they're going to do it.' A lot of those plans haven't worked out," the governor said. "I mean, they've had to change their criteria from the beginning. They had plans in December, had to shift, most of them have shifted to doing what Florida is doing and so we're gonna continue with seniors first."

While Florida is one of only two states to have first prioritized all persons over the age of 65, regardless of health or occupational concerns, it has not yet announced when other demographic groups will become eligible for a vaccine. Although the state is currently approaching two million seniors vaccinated, its plan has left out healthcare workers and younger residents with underlying medical conditions who may be more vulnerable.   

DeSantis initially suggested that workers in education and law enforcement would be the next to receive a vaccine dose. "We'll start with probably 50 and up," he hinted on Tuesday. But during Wednesday's presser, DeSantis withheld any official plans for the vaccine rollout, emphasizing the need for an open-ended approach. The same day, data science firm Cogitativo released a report that found Florida's lack of a future distribution plan might leave the Sunshine State vulnerable to "complete chaos."

Even using the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), which measures the relative vulnerability between populations in order to assess which ones should be prioritized for vaccines, Cogitativo argues, Florida will suffer excess deaths as a result of COVID because the SVI "does not account for social determinants of health such as air quality or access to fresh food," as the report notes. "To simulate vaccine allocation, we assumed an initial distribution of 100 million doses for the entire US with two doses per person for a total of 50 million possibly vaccinated persons."

According to Cogitativo's projections, Florida's current distribution trajectory would leave 48% of Florida counties in a vaccine deficit, with the top five counties being Palm Beach, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade. Florida would have a "combined shortage" of 694,990 vaccine doses. Cogitativo's study found that if Florida implemented a plan with "clinical data provides a clear view of the prevalence of health conditions — such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension — that are major risk factors for negative outcomes with the virus" it could save nearly 100,000 lives and avoid 840,760 hospitalizations. 

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Complete Chaos Desantis Distribution Florida Governor Plan Rollout Seniors Vaccine