DeSantis Puts Seniors First For COVID Vaccine

Dec 23, 2020

Credit Linda Dunwoody/Ascension Sacred Heart

Governor Ron DeSantis stopped by Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola Wednesday morning to update the community on Florida’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines and discuss priorities for distribution to the state’s senior citizens.

DeSantis feels so strongly about putting elders at the head of the line, after frontline healthcare workers, that he decided to put it in writing.

“This morning, I’ll be signing an Executive Order (20-315) that makes it clear our seniors are going to be the first priority in the general community to receive the COVID vaccine,” he announced.

The governor says getting the senior population inoculated is important for reducing mortality and the number of people who need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.          He felt an executive order was necessary because a CDC advisory committee had initially recommended seniors follow those categorized as essential workers.

“They’ve now said, ‘Well you should do essential workers and 75-and-up at the same time.’ The problem is people that are 73-74 would be in the back of the line for a young 21-year-old worker, who’s considered “essential.” That doesn’t, I think, make sense, the governor declared.”

The executive order makes it clear that seniors age 65 and older will be next to get the vaccine after healthcare workers, residents and staff in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and sick individuals of any age.

DeSantis also announced that county health departments are beginning to receive a small amount of the vaccine, and will begin administering to eligible seniors as early as next week.

“I would just caution folks who are in that 65 and older, don’t rush to your local hospital or county health department, right now,” advised the governor regarding the fact that there not yet enough doses for all the state’s seniors.

“You’re going to have an opportunity to sign up in very short order. We are going to be getting it to the county health departments, but it is going to be a relatively limited supply. So, I would just say bear with us.”

As for the state’s supply, Florida’s five largest hospitals received the first round of 180,000 doses of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNtech last week.

This week, all 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine have arrived at more than 170 hospitals in the state, including Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, where the governor held Wednesday’s press briefing.

After his prepared remarks, he introduced the first of three frontline workers at the hospital, who agreed to get their shots on camera.

“My name is J.C. Crenshaw and I’ve been at Sacred Heart for eight-and-a-half years,” said the hospital’s director of Support Services as he introduced himself.

After taking a seat, a fellow medical staffer wipes his arm with alcohol and then delivers the injection.

“How was it,” asked Gov. DeSantis.

“It was good,” Crenshaw replied.

“Alright, thanks for doing it. We appreciate it,” the governor responded, before attending the briefing acknowledged the occasion with applause.

“The emotion is extremely high. I mean, it is the most exciting work we’ve been able to provide here within our ministry market, within our Florida market,” said Jennifer Henry, director of Physician Practice Operations for the Ascension Medical Group at Sacred Heart.  “Today’s the day healthcare goes on offense.”

With the vaccine now in hand, Henry said she and her colleagues feel a sense of relief, after being on defense for so long.

“We have worked tremendous hours. We have lost friends. We have lost patients. We have...it’s been tough,” she acknowledged. “But, over the last 24 hours, thanks to you, Governor, and your leadership, and our Ascension Gulf Coast leadership, we’re on the offense. We’re fighting back.”

According to Henry, Ascension Sacred Heart received a shipment of the Moderna vaccine on Monday morning at 9:30, and began administering it by noon.  

“Yesterday, just here in the Pensacola market, we vaccinated over 700 healthcare workers, the Phase 1a healthcare workers, the ones at the highest risk for caring for our COVID patients,” she said.

“Within our Ascension Gulf Coast market, every single hospital we have has the vaccine. We are vaccinating actively today. We have vaccinated, at the end of the day yesterday, close to 1,200 healthcare workers.”

While, she’s excited about the COVID-19 vaccine coming to market, Henry cautioned that it’s way too early to let our guard down. She advised everyone to continue to adhere to CDC safety guidelines by wearing masks, social distancing, and staying at home if you’re sick.