The federal government is mostly to blame for what some people see as a slow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Florida. That according to the state’s Emergency Management Director.
Appearing before the newly-minted House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee on Thursday, Jared Moskowitz said the feds have been dragging their feet in releasing enough supply to Florida to meet demand.
“Just the 70 sites we have, based on supply we have, we’re doing about 23,000 shots there a day; those sites can be built to do 552,000 shots a day,” said Moskowitz. “So it’s not an infrastructure issue – it goes back to a supply issue.”
The states learned of their allocations through “Tiberius” – the federal system set up by “Operation Warp Speed.”
“The problem? The problem is we can see only six days ahead, not two weeks, not three weeks, but six days,” Moskowitz told the panel. “We find out on a Tuesday what we’re going to get the following Monday. When people say, ‘Where is the long-range planning?’ The federal government doesn’t tell us. They don’t tell me what I’m getting in two months; they don’t tell me what I’m getting next month. I can’t tell you what I’m getting in two weeks.”
Also, he said a federal contract with the pharmacies CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing-home residents ran behind schedule, forcing the state to pick up the slack to get people in long-term care facilities vaccinated quickly.
“Because the federal government’s long-term care contract was prohibited from starting for several weeks; we found that unacceptable,” said Moskowitz. “We wanted to get a jumpstart, so we were the first in the country to go into long-term care facilities. We picked Pinellas and Broward counties and the state – before the federal government contract ever started – went into 100 facilities in just six days.”
Moskowitz is also aware of reports of what is being called “vaccine tourism,” where people come to the state to get vaccinated. He calls that behavior abhorrent, but feels it’s proof that Florida is doing a better job than most states at getting shots in arms.
“I do find it somewhat ironic that if you believe the headlines and Florida was such a disaster in getting the vaccine out, then why are people from around the world flying here to get their vaccine?” Moskowitz said.
Another problem, he told the committee, is that hospitals were not moving fast enough to distribute the vaccine.
“One reason, is that they believe they have to split their allocation and hold onto doses for the second shot, even though that’s not what we told them, even though that’s not what the CDC told them, and even though that’s not what Operation Warp Speed told them,” said Moskowitz. “Why? Why was that happening? It was happening because when they asked us when we’re receiving their second dose, we couldn’t tell ‘em.”
Instilling confidence that they would get their second shot in the hospital system because the state wasn’t given the delivery date – again, the six-day information cycle.
“Then in week three, we get 280,000 doses; week two we get 500,000, Moskowitz said. “We were told doses were going to ramp up week over week. Week two we get 500,000; week three [its] 280,000. An almost 50% decline from the previous week.”
By the middle of week three, Moskowitz’ office got word the second shot appears in Tiberius, and hospitals are forwarded the information. But in week four, a supply issue arises.
“We get 250,000, continuing to drop down from the previous week; providers are now concerned about running out of vaccine,” Moskowitz said. “Also leading providers not giving it out fast enough. Instructed by the governor to assist, the Florida Division of Emergency Management immediately hires 1,000 contract nurses to support the vaccination efforts.”
The nurses are sent across the state to vaccination sites run by the state, counties and hospitals – supplementing the personnel already in the field. That also includes 800 Florida National Guard troops who have been supporting the state’s response since the start of the pandemic.
“And because of the disparity in the minority community and the historical vaccine hesitancy, the Florida Division of Emergency Management was the first in the nation to partner with places of worship in underserved communities where the vaccine may be administered,” said Moskowitz.
Local validators were used to help alleviate concerns about taking the vaccine. The pilot program was in the Brownsville community of Pensacola.
“We gave out 500 vaccines, wanted to do them all in a day, [and] the response was overwhelming,” said Moskowitz. “The following weekend – seven days later – I did nine of them across the state – same response. They didn’t interface with me, they interfaced with the pastor, with their church, the members that organized.”
Among states that publicly report on vaccinations for seniors, Florida is the first state in the nation to vaccinate more than 500,000 individuals 65 years of age or older, as of Friday, according to the governor’s office. That accounts for nearly 60% of total vaccinations in the state.