Hope on the horizon with COVID-19 vaccination distribution

Closeup of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine in a medical syringe. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Since the first COVID-19 shots arrived in Florida on Dec. 14, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has traveled throughout the state to tout his approach to doling out highly anticipated doses of the Pfizer Inc. and Moderna vaccines.

DeSantis says he’s focused on ensuring that the state’s millions of seniors are first in line for vaccinations, along with people he calls "tip-of-the-spear" health care workers.

Florida’s long-term care facility residents and staff have borne a huge brunt of the coronavirus. According to state health officials, nearly 83 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have involved people 65 or older. About 38 percent of the state’s deaths have involved residents and staff of long-term care facilities, with the overwhelming majority of residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, state reports show.

With tens of thousands of vaccinations underway, DeSantis drew fire for rejecting proposed recommendations by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about who should be prioritized for the inoculations. The recommendations by an advisory panel propose that essential workers, such as first responders, grocery-store clerks, teachers, and transit workers, be high up on the list.

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The federal government released the initial vaccine batches to states for use in long-term care facilities and hospitals. 

DeSantis this week emphasized that he wants all Floridians 65 and older to have priority.

"Those recommendations, should the CDC adopt them, are advisory, they do not bind states. They do not bind individual governors. And they will not bind the state of Florida," DeSantis told reporters during a press conference at The Villages on Tuesday. "So let me just be very, very clear. Our vaccines are going to be targeted to our elderly population." 

DeSantis’ remarks caused some concern for workers in another industry that’s been hard-hit by the virus: the state’s prisons.

More than one in five of Florida’s roughly 80,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, which has caused the deaths of 189 inmates.

Florida corrections officers are concerned about the vaccination plan. Even if prison workers become a priority for the vaccine, inmates may not be.

Working conditions amid the pandemic have been abysmal, Jim Baiardi, president of the state corrections chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said in a recent interview.

"There’s two words that sum up what a correctional officer’s life is like right now: living hell," he said.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest coronavirus news.