The governor’s failures in leadership have sown confusion among Floridians and hobbled the state’s vaccine distribution program.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced strong criticism from Democrats and health officials for his handling of the crisis that as of Feb. 8 has taken 27,695 lives across the state. The criticisms range from his downplaying COVID-19 data, to one of the most consequential: his fumbling of the distribution of the vaccine.
One of the most serious problems has been a distribution program that has put people of color at a clear disadvantage.
“There is an ethnic disparity in the individual’s access to the vaccine,” Carlos Guillermo Smith, District 49 representative in the Florida legislature, told The Americano. “The African American community, for example, has not had equal access to the vaccine, and neither has the Latino community,” said Smith, who serves on the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee, and has oversight of the state’s response to the pandemic.
In fact, according to Smith, less than 5% of the vaccines have been given to Florida’s Black residents. Yet they account for nearly 17% of the state’s population. Similarly, just 7.9% of those who have been inoculated are Hispanic, even though Latinos make up more than 26% of the state’s population.
In contrast, in Miami-Dade County’s Fisher Island, an overwhelmingly white and wealthy enclave, more than 50% of the residents have received the vaccine.
More Locations Are Needed
“There are not enough locations for folks to get the vaccine,” Smith said, adding that people need to be given more geographic access, particularly those who have limited transportation options, and there needs to be more mobile response vaccination teams.
According to him, retail distribution of vaccines also needs to be expanded beyond Publix pharmacies. More retailers with pharmacies need to be available to the public.
“One of the ways to do this is by partnering with churches, even allowing the churches to be the site of distribution administered by the county health department,” Smith said. “It’s already happening in Florida, but it needs to be expanded to Latinos and African Americans.”
DeSantis’ county-by-county approach to public health, which allowed each of the state’s 67 counties to choose their own distribution method, created confusion. And the situation persists to this day.
In fact, last month the state launched a portal that allows people to preregister for a vaccine by computer or by phone. It was left up to the counties to decide whether they want to merge with the new state system or continue on their own, for different reasons. This quickly became mired in confusion when several Florida counties opted out of the program, leaving seniors bewildered with no clear direction on how to proceed. As Smith points out, having no federal coordination makes vaccine distribution an uphill battle.
“It was also intended for hospitals to administer vaccines to those who are extremely vulnerable to COVID who are younger than 65,” Smith said. “They are authorized to be able to be vaccinated through a hospital, but those hospitals have not published public criteria on who they deem eligible and how they can get a vaccine.”
Smith also thinks it is essential that all COVID information be provided not only in English, but in a person’s native language: Spanish, Creole and Portuguese, for example.
Despite DeSantis’ failures in leadership, Smith is optimistic that the new administration can correct some of the mistakes that have led to the state’s vaccine problems.
“The Biden administration understands that the American people can handle the truth if we are upfront with them,” Smith said. “This means putting scientists, and doctors and medical health experts at the forefront of not only disseminating information to the public, but also helping the public understand what’s ahead and what we can do now to combat the virus and move on from the pandemic at some point.”