‘Another success’ as Florida’s vaccine rollout ramps up | Editorial

Editorial Board, Tampa Bay Times
·3 min read

Wednesday’s opening of a new federally-run vaccination site in Tampa marked another success in the yearlong effort to fight the coronavirus. Coming in the wake of a deal brokered by the Biden administration to vastly increase supplies of a third vaccine, the development reflects what can happen with a White House engaged on stemming the pandemic. This is good news, but the effort in Florida needs more coordination.

The vaccination site at the Tampa Greyhound Track is one of four in Florida mobilized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The site, along with ones in Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami, are federally-funded, staffed mostly by federal employees and open seven days a week, with each capable of administering 2,000 doses per day. As important, each site will also field two smaller, mobile operations, each capable of providing 500 additional vaccinations per day in underserved areas. Tampa’s dog track is perfectly situated for this purpose, centrally located in the city and surrounded by the low-income neighborhood of Sulphur Springs.

Florida’s selection as the first state in the nation to host a “hub-and-spoke model” for federal vaccination sites is another major step in the battle against the virus. Wednesday’s openings followed the announcement this week that drug maker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved vaccine. That deal came together after the Biden administration, fearing a bottleneck in the J&J supply, provided money, technical expertise and other resources to increase production of the one-dose vaccine. Biden said Tuesday the U.S. was “on track” to have enough supply of vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, an earlier target and a reflection of concern over new variants of the virus.

This broad deployment of resources is critical in a state (and a nation) where only a fraction of the population has received a shot. And it only underscores the need for the many players involved to coordinate their efforts. The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday that Florida officials have shipped 70,000 COVID vaccine doses a week to Publix’s central distribution hub in Lakeland without knowing exactly where the shots would go. The grocery chain is the state’s single-largest vaccination supplier and receives nearly a quarter of Florida’s available doses without providing state officials a specific distribution plan ahead of time.

State officials defend the arrangement with Publix, arguing the priority is getting shots into arms as quickly as possible. While that should be a priority, there’s no reason Publix and the state cannot do both — distribute the vaccines and coordinate their efforts. That will make it easier to see where the various batches of vaccine are going (and not going). And the state needs a more orderly rollout of pop-up sites. Floridians are right to question whether some affluent communities have received preferential treatment — because they have. Bad messaging so early in the mobilization effort will only undermine public confidence in the government’s response.

The Biden administration has brought much-needed resources and structure to the vaccination drive. Wednesday marked the first day that older school employees, police and firefighters in Florida were allowed to receive the vaccine. As more groups become eligible, it’s essential that Florida ensures the vaccines are distributed fairly. If the pandemic taught anything, it’s that no community is an island.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.