TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Wednesday called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to mobilize the National Guard to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
n a letter to DeSantis, Fried said distribution has been characterized in media reports as "very chaotic" and that there is a lack of "clear direction" for health-care professionals on vaccination procedures.
"Instead of efficient, centralized distribution management by the state of Florida, distribution has been left to hospitals and county health departments," Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, wrote. "While you characterize this as ‘cutting out the middle man,’ vulnerable residents are left without answers or clear direction from overwhelmed local agencies on when, where and how to receive the vaccine."
The Republican Party of Florida questioned Fried’s request.
"Clearly you didn’t know as of Dec 30, 175k Floridians were vaccinated," the Republican Party said on Twitter. "FL was first to mobilize county health departments and emergency managers to vaccinate seniors 65+, offer vaccines to EMTs, paramedics and staff & residents at LTC facilities."
With DeSantis prioritizing vaccinations for people 65 and older, his administration has turned to hospitals and county health departments to help give the shots. Reports from parts of the state have pointed to long lines, jammed phones, and overwhelmed websites as people seek to get vaccinated. Broward Health reported on Wednesday that "due to overwhelming demand" it had reached capacity and could not schedule any more appointments.
Fried asked that health and emergency-management officials be present at a Feb. 2 state Cabinet meeting to answer questions about vaccine distribution. Fried has been a persistent critic of the Republican governor and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis departed last week from federal guidelines and decided to make people 65 and older a priority for vaccinations, as opposed to "essential" workers such as teachers, first responders, and grocery-store employees.
"The COVID vaccine supply is limited," DeSantis said Wednesday while at a senior complex in Delray Beach where 300 residents were being inoculated. "We don’t have enough vaccine on hand for all 4 million-plus senior citizens. We will get there."