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Palm Beach County leaders discuss lowering COVID-19 vaccination age to 40 and older

Miami-Dade, Orange counties recently lowered age of eligibility without governor's approval
Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso gives a COVID-19 update on March 23, 2021.jpg
Posted at 8:00 AM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 16:14:30-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Can Palm Beach County leaders take it upon themselves to defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and lower the age of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to 40 and older, just like Miami-Dade and Orange counties have?

Not likely, top officials said on Tuesday.

In recent days, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings have personally dropped the age of eligible residents, despite an executive order from DeSantis that says only Floridians who are 50 and older can get the vaccine.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner told county commissioners on Tuesday that Miami-Dade and Orange counties are likely getting around the governor's order because they're receiving federal doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, whereas Palm Beach County is only receiving a state supply.

"There's a little bit more flexibility in those very urban areas," Kerner said. "I don't think these other counties are violating that order in that they're probably using federal vaccines that have a little bit more durability or broader boundaries of how they can use them."

Several commissioners expressed their desire to ask DeSantis if Palm Beach County can lower the age of eligibility on its own.

"If [DeSantis] is not going to have a problem with Orlando and Miami going to 40 and over, I don't see why we can't ask to have the same thing," Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth told Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso.

"That's definitely a political decision," Alonso said. "I think that's something that has to be taken up politically. That's definitely not my role."

While Levine Cava and Demings haven't appeared to face any repercussions for making their own rules, their decisions haven't come without controversy.

Last Friday in Tallahassee, DeSantis scolded Demings, saying the Orange County mayor doesn't have the authority to make that kind of age-lowering move.

"It’s not his decision to make. There’s a structure in the state of Florida in terms of how these decisions are made," DeSantis said. "Trying to do healthy 40-year-olds over finding, maybe, some more seniors, to me, would not be the direction that I would go."


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks 40 and over vaccinations

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said Tuesday that she would be willing to call the Florida Division of Emergency Management and ask to drop the age to 40 and over. But she cautioned, that could come with risks.

"If we start to drop our population numbers, we're gonna have even more difficulty trying to get our elderly vaccinated," Baker said.

There are federally-operated COVID-19 vaccination sites at both Miami Dade College's North Campus and Valencia College in Orlando, while Palm Beach County doesn't have any.

Alonso said, however, that Publix and CVS pharmacies use federal supplies of the vaccine, therefore they follow federal, not state guidelines, when it comes to determining who is eligible to receive the vaccine.

"The federal sites welcome you to come to them. They welcome you to go down to Broward or to Miami if you want to go to a federal site," Alonso said. "But in Palm Beach County, we are having to follow the governor's executive order."

The federal sites in Broward County that Alonso referred to are Publix and CVS pharmacies.


Palm Beach County health director gives update on coronavirus cases, vaccinations

Kerner concluded by saying he will "never recommend this board attempt to overstep the governor," adding that he doesn't believe lowering the age to 40 and older is something that should be taken up by commissioners at this time.

"If there's a political decision that impacts the community, that needs to come from the board as a whole," Kerner said. "What I don't want to see happen is commissioners take it upon themselves to write letters or interface with the governor."

As a military veteran, Shashi Jairam has been eligible to get the vaccine for some time now.

"I kinda wanted to wait my turn for my age group," Jairam said.

On Monday, his number was up: 50 and up.

"The first thing that came to my brother," Jairam said.

Jairam's brother is in his 40s and not eligible under the governor’s current executive order.

Jairam said he would be in favor of lowering the age eligibility to 40 sooner rather than later, specially since the DeSantis has said everyone will have access to the vaccine at some point in April.

"I think between 18 and 40 is very much different than 40 and above," Jairam said.

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 378,724 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County, which ranks third in the Sunshine State behind Miami-Dade and Broward counties.