Florida’s blueprint for distributing the coronavirus vaccines, a huge logistical undertaking, is taking shape and state officials on Monday ramped up the pressure on hospitals and local healthcare providers to inoculate people as soon as supplies become available.
But a hurdle remains: Vaccine supply.
“Supply is limited, and that is what ultimately is hurting the plan,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz told the Herald/Times on Monday. “If we had more supply, and we could put it in more places, then there wouldn’t be such a rush to one facility.”
The supply bottleneck has led to senior citizens in long lines waiting for vaccinations and overwhelmed hospital phone lines, and glitches have exposed shortcomings in both the supply chain and Florida’s mass vaccination plan.
Moskowitz said the state’s vaccination plan relies on standing mass-vaccination plans at the state and local levels that have been in place for years. Last September, the state asked hospitals and county health departments to prepare to roll out those plans.
“What we’ve seen is some plans have gone well, and some plans have not,” Moskowitz said. “Plans are great, but obviously you need to see how they work in real life, and if they don’t work, you need to fix them.”
So, part of the state’s role in the vaccination plan is to prop up the counties that need help with the logistics and monitor their efforts to ensure vaccinations are taking place in the community. That could mean the state sends hospitals medical supplies like syringes or alcohol swabs, or more staff or other resources, Moskowitz said.
Another key part of the state’s logistical undertaking is dealing with the federal government’s vaccination database, which gives state officials a seven-day preview of the number of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that will be allocated to the state.
Moskowitz said the system does not provide state officials with a long-range estimate for what Florida could expect in two weeks or more.
“It only tells me what I’m receiving in seven days,” he said. “Then, we basically have a short window to put in the addresses of where we want to send the vaccine.”
The state does not serve as a “middleman” warehouse but rather it jots down which healthcare providers in the state will receive vaccine vials, each of which is tracked by the federal and state governments. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be stored in freezing temperatures and require two doses to be effective.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday the state views hospitals as the “front line” on the vaccination effort, noting that 80% of the vaccines the state has acquired so far have gone to hospitals.
The Florida Hospital Association said in a press release last week that the amount was closer to 55%, a figure disputed by Moskowitz on Monday. FHA CEO Mary Mayhew, the former secretary for the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Herald/Times on Monday that through the end of last week hospitals received 533,000 of the 965,000 doses provided to the state.
“I don’t know the specific allocation this week to hospitals. But it would not have increased to 80%,” Mayhew said.
It’s unclear what accounts for the discrepancy between the hospitals’ figures and the governor’s.
“What we tried to do in Florida is say, ‘We trust, obviously, our healthcare delivery system. That’s who’s going to do the best at this. And we are going to constantly evaluate,’ ” DeSantis said at a press conference in Longwood, an Orlando suburb, on Monday.
DeSantis, however, said any hospital chain that fails to meet its vaccination goals will see supplies redistributed to other hospitals that are more efficient at vaccinating people.
“Hospitals that do not do a good job at getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job and getting them,” DeSantis said.
Moskowitz said the state’s inventory tracking reveals how many vaccines vials are sitting in a freezer rather than being distributed.
The state is discouraging hospitals and healthcare providers from holding the second dose of a vaccine in storage “out of moral obligation” to make sure that everybody who receives the first shot gets a second shot.
“I understand the anxiety,” Moskowitz said. “But if you have a commodity that’s very limited, and you send it to any place, and that commodity is not getting used, would you continue to send the commodity there?”
He added: “At the end of the day, this is about getting the vaccine out in the community. It will be our job to figure out what’s the best way to get it out there.”
To make sure this happens, DeSantis said Monday that the state is working to convert state-run testing sites into vaccination centers, working to hire 1,000 extra nurses to administer shots and is even planning to use churches as vaccination sites to target under-served communities.
Moskowitz said he has spent months planning to convert testing sites into vaccination sites, and has several existing contracts with nurses to allow the vaccination efforts to be executed within days, not weeks.
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.