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Florida vaccine strategy appears to change as governor defends rollout

State surgeon general not allowed to answer questions during meeting
Posted at 6:33 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 18:33:00-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Has Florida changed its vaccine strategy?

That's a big question around the state capitol as the governor seems to have reversed course on whether to hold back shots.

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The Centers for Disease Control reported this week Florida has yet to use about half of its allotted three million COVID-19 vaccines. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted the statistic on Monday, suggesting Florida has a distribution issue.

In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his claim that most of the remaining doses are being held as boosters during a Wednesday news conference.

"When the person at the White House says Florida has all these doses, those are second doses," DeSantis said. "Is she suggesting we give away second doses?"

Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez says the state is holding back doses of the vaccine for second shots.

DeSantis' strategy is a 180-degree change from what Florida officials told vaccinators to do just weeks ago. Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz warned providers last month to distribute doses or else.

"At the end of the day, we're telling people to get those shots in arms," he said. "Do not hold any back. We're going to reward providers out there that get shots in arms. For the folks that sit on vaccine, we're not going to send them anymore.”

Florida Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez said she can't speak for the director but suspected the policy was just for the first supply of shots to Florida. The state, she said, started holding some back when subsequent deliveries arrived.

"It’s a two-pronged approach," Nuñez said. "We want to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine in a two-dose regimen."

House Democrats were hoping for further clarity on the issue and others during a morning subcommittee meeting with the state's surgeon general.

Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
After Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees was not allowed to take questions at a hearing, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, called it a "sham."

However, the GOP chair told lawmakers there wouldn't be time for questions due to a "robust agenda." State Rep. Will Robinson said Dr. Scott Rivkees was appearing only for introductions, despite Florida's top medical official not having met with House members for 11 months.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the committee's ranking Democrat, told the chair the decision "contributes to the perception that this is a sham."

"If we can't ask questions of our surgeon general in a legislative committee of the Florida House, what are we here for," said the Winter Park lawmaker. "Why did we even come to Tallahassee?"

Robinson encouraged lawmakers to reach out to Florida Health to schedule individual conversations.