FEMA vaccine sites wind down in Florida as vaccine supply tightens

Ben Conarck, Michael Wilner, Bianca Padró Ocasio
·5 min read

The FEMA vaccine mega-sites are winding down in Florida while projections for the next two weeks call for tighter vaccine supplies, officials said Thursday.

South Florida’s federally supported site at Miami Dade College’s North Campus, which has been vaccinating thousands of people per day, will stop giving first doses starting next week, officials said on Thursday. The rotating mini-sites, which have been shifting locations by the week and are currently in Cutler Bay and Liberty City, will also pivot to second doses only.

“The important message here is if you need a vaccine and you meet the criteria, do not wait,” FEMA spokesman Mike Jachles said in a press conference Thursday, “because by mid-week next week, we will transition to second vaccines only. So you cannot get the first vaccines at the FEMA-supported sites.”

On Wednesday, FEMA stopped administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the MDC site and its two satellite centers.

Mary Hudak, a regional spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the new mega-sites were designed to operate in a 60-day window, and that the agency was still working with the state to decide if any further assistance was needed.

“It’s a constant planning process,” Hudak said Thursday. “It’s a deliberative process that we’re going through.”

State officials said they are sharing demographic data from the sites with federal officials, data they declined to provide to the Miami Herald, and using that to determine whether the vaccination sites might come back, or those resources might go elsewhere.

“We’re evaluating if we’ll be able to go back to a certain satellite site earlier on or if that’s a place we need to open up a state-led vaccine site, a permanent site there,” Jason Mahon, a spokesperson for the state’s lead agency on vaccine distribution, said on Thursday. “Those are ongoing conversations.”

A long line of cars forms as people arrive at the Miami Dade College North vaccination site in Miami, Florida, to try and receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, March 7, 2021.
A long line of cars forms as people arrive at the Miami Dade College North vaccination site in Miami, Florida, to try and receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, March 7, 2021.

Vaccine rates have slowed in Florida

Vaccinations have slowed in recent weeks in Florida, which Gov. Ron DeSantis attributed on Thursday to more than two-thirds of those 65 and older having already received at least one dose. But the governor has largely kept many restrictions in place, including strict age requirements and doctor’s note policies that are likely to hurt under-insured and uninsured people.

As of Tuesday, about 25% of those people over the age of 16 who received a vaccination in Miami-Dade County had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi’s vaccine dashboard. For people over the age of 65, that number is 69%.

DeSantis signaled Thursday he intended to further loosen age restrictions, but some officials have acted on their own. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced he would be lowering the age to 40 at the county’s convention center starting on Monday.

Vaccine supply looks flat for the rest of March

The news of vaccination sites being phased out came on the same day that state officials said they weren’t projecting any increases in the weekly supply of COVID vaccine doses over the next two weeks.

After an initial shipment of 175,100 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the start of the month, the state has seen its shipments dwindle to weekly installments of 24,100 over the last two weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database. On Wednesday, DeSantis said the state was not expecting more shipments of the one-dose vaccine “for the next two or three weeks.”

The federal supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has leveled off at around 282,00 to 287,000 first doses per week over the last two weeks of allotments, according to the CDC, while the Moderna vaccine supply has remained flat at 208,000 first doses per week over the last month.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz told the Miami Herald on Thursday that the federal projections “show our vaccine will be flat for two weeks.”

Moskowitz deferred questions about the reasons why supply was flattening to the federal government. A CDC official acknowledged that supply to the federal retail pharmacy program has remained “stagnant,” but said that projections of future supply to states are decided by the White House and managed within the Tiberius vaccine tracking system by the Department of Health and Human Services.

White House and HHS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Nationwide, vaccinations have plateaued somewhat in recent days, and the number of vaccine doses administered per day has hovered between 2 million and 3 million for much of March.

“My presumption is this is a supply problem,” said Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The increase in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine ... is not quite what we expected at this point, and the Johnson & Johnson has been delayed.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical officer, set expectations of increasing doses, speaking on CBS News’ “Face The Nation.”

“We need to gradually pull back [on restrictions] as we get more people vaccinated, and that is happening every single day, more and more people, and particularly as we get more doses, which are going to be dramatically increased as we get into April and May,” Fauci said.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Devoun Cetoute contributed to this report.