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'We've gotta stand by our elderly folks': DeSantis says seniors remain priority for COVID vaccine

The Florida Education Association last month sent a letter to the governor, asking he include school employees in the state vaccination plan.

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state has looked to data when it comes to determining who should get the first batches of a COVID-19 vaccine.

That, so far, has included front-line health care workers and people who are age 65 and older. The latter group especially has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus, with the majority of related deaths -- 18,918 people as of Jan. 9 -- occurring within the elderly population.

The governor, speaking Sunday at the Lynn Haven Senior Center near Panama City, Florida, said seniors will continue to be the priority. The Florida Education Association last month asked the governor to include school employees to be among the first groups receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked by a reporter about teachers, the governor didn't yet have an announcement.

"Obviously, you're going to have a lot of folks to be in that next cadre, for sure, but, you know, by us putting seniors first, we're doing the right thing by our parents and grandparents," DeSantis said. "It's the morally right thing to do, but it's the medically right thing to do. 

"It's based on the data."

Florida's coronavirus vaccine rollout has been slow and steady at best, confusing and frustrating at worse. The state reports, as of Jan. 9, close to 500,000 people have received the first dose of a two-dose vaccine, and vaccination appointments for seniors have come online more frequently.

But the process has been marred by confusing health department websites, crashing systems and busy phone lines. There aren't enough doses to go around given the high demand. Some health care facilities still are waiting for vaccines.

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The governor says he hopes the availability of additional products, such Johnson & Johnson's vaccine that remains in Phase 3 trial, will help to boost the state's supply. That vaccine, in particular, is easier to handle and distribute as it can be refrigerated at 36-46 degrees and is also a one-dose vaccine. Pfizer's and Moderna's products require two doses, while Pfizer's must be kept at extremely cold temperatures.

When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eventually added to the state supply, DeSantis said it could easiest one to provide to the general workforce.

"There's way more demand from seniors than there's been supply so far, that will start to change as the supply comes in and more people get vaccines. You're going to start to see that become...a little bit more equilibrium there," DeSantis said. "Then, at that point, we can start looking for folks who want to get [the vaccine]."

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