Darren Soto says vaccine plan’s next phase ‘likely’ in March

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Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel
·2 min read
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U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida said Wednesday the state is likely to move to the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccination plan “sometime in March,” allowing essential workers and people under 65 deemed medically vulnerable to get the vaccine. Soto, who represents all of Osceola county and parts of Orange and Polk, also told a virtual town hall audience that he expects a third phase to inoculate all other adults will likely begin in April.

But the timetable is ultimately up to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not yet weighed in on the issue. Soto, a Democrat, did not elaborate on his comments except to say they were “based on Florida’s estimation” and noted that federal vaccine distribution is expected to ramp up considerably in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the supply of COVID-19 vaccines going directly to retail pharmacies, such as Publix and Walmart, will double to 2 million this week. Soto said the number of vaccine doses to Florida already grew 16% the first week in February and that he expected a 22% jump next week.

Extreme winter weather across a wide swath of the nation has delayed vaccine delivery to Florida this week..

“We are maximizing the use of advanced production for all supplies needed to make the vaccine,” Soto said of the Biden administration’s attempts to accelerate distribution. “The United States hasn’t had to produce a type of effort like this, at this scale, since World War II... This means we will have enough for nearly every American now to be vaccinated.”

For weeks, Floridians under age 65 with serious health concerns have pleaded to be included in the first phase of the state’s vaccination distribution. The governor’s statewide order Dec. 23 said only people 65 and older, long-term care facility residents and staff and health-care workers with direct patient contact could be vaccinated at most sites, although he allowed hospitals to provide inoculations to any adult deemed “extremely vulnerable.”

DeSantis also ordered nearly 60,000 doses to select hospitals specifically for those vulnerable residents. But demand has vastly outpaced supply.

In addition, many have urged the governor to prioritize “essential workers” — a sprawling category that could include farmers, teachers, child-care providers, restaurant staff, grocery clerks, information technology workers and funeral home personnel.

Top Florida health officials have not responded to repeated questions about when the state might move to its next phase.

So far, nearly 1.2 million Floridians have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine — the two types approved in the U.S. so far — and another 1.3 million have gotten the first dose.

ksantich@orlandosentinel.com