Marking a significant change in Florida’s vaccination strategy, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said teachers and law enforcement officers aged 50 and older will have access to COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming days, as four new federally supported vaccination sites open in the state.
At a news conference in Hialeah, DeSantis said the new Federal Emergency Management Agency-supported sites set to vaccinate senior citizens in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa will be used to vaccinate teachers and law enforcement officers aged 50-plus as well.
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, did not know how many teachers would qualify for the vaccines. Regardless, Spar said DeSantis’ plan doesn’t go far enough to protect teachers and said the vaccines should be available across the state, not at just four locations. The FEA is the state’s largest teachers union, which has been pushing to get all teachers vaccinated regardless of age.
“If we truly are trying to make sure we keep everyone safe and protect the learning environment, it just makes good sense to make sure everyone who works in our schools has access to the vaccination,” Spar said. “Our educators have been on the front line, fighting to make sure kids are getting the education they deserve. It doesn’t make sense for the governor to continue to ignore what the medical field is saying and what science is saying.”
The federal government has given approval to vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer to prevent the spread of the virus. Both vaccines require two doses. Federal officials on Friday will review an emergency use authorization request by Johnson & Johnson for its vaccine candidate. If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would require only one dose.
DeSantis said his administration has been preparing to get the vaccines to law enforcement officials who are 50 or older and has contacted local police departments and sheriff’s offices.
“They are getting us information about how many folks they have that are sworn law enforcement officers that are 50-plus. Then, of that, how many want it?” he said. “Our goal is to be able to get that, as more vaccine becomes available.”
Florida Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the new policy is a good start, but that more needs to be done.
“Over here in Palm Beach County, I’ve lost four deputies under 50 years old.” Kazanjian told The News Service of Florida. “Maybe 20% of our membership are 50 and over. The other 80% are under 50 years of age, and we need to get the needles in their arms.”
When the Biden administration first floated the idea of opening FEMA sites in Florida, DeSantis was critical and said the federal government didn’t need to interfere with the state’s vaccination efforts. But DeSantis has reversed his position, noting that the addition of the FEMA sites means additional vaccine doses.
“We are very happy that we are going to have some federally supported sites,” DeSantis said. “We have to basically manage it at the state level, but they are going to put in additional doses, above and beyond the state’s allotment. These are tens of thousands of doses in a given week, so we are excited about that.”