Editorial: Florida’s botched COVID vaccine rollout signals need for better pandemic response

The state’s botched COVID vaccine rollout signals need for better overall pandemic response….

Editorial: Florida’s botched COVID vaccine rollout signals need for better pandemic response

The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
 |  Palm Beach Post

Editorial: Florida's botched COVID vaccine rollout signals need for better pandemic response 1

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COVID vaccine: Can you still be contagious?

Vaccinologist Dr. Greg Poland discusses what it’s like after your first dosage of COVID-19 vaccine.

Staff Video, USA TODAY

Like almost everything else about the pandemic, the rollout of COVID vaccines — the very thing promising an end to the pandemic — has been messy, frustrating and divisive. 

In this state, the bulk of the blame rests with the governor. As we start a new year, state leaders must offer much better performance. Too many elderly Floridians — including thousands in Palm Beach County — who have suffered through Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mishandling of the pandemic, while awaiting a life-saving vaccine, are now suffering through a botched rollout.

One bright spot has come from Agriculture and Consumer Services Secretary Nikki Fried, who has challenged DeSantis to mobilize the National Guard “to oversee a timely, orderly, centralized vaccine distribution process.” Too bad that Fried, the only Democrat holding a statewide office, has been marginalized in this state government. Her thinking is spot-on.

If only the state’s Republican leaders in the House and Senate would show the same guts.

More: Pandemonium breaks out among some seniors trying to get COVID vaccine

‘Like the Hunger Games’: How Florida’s COVID vaccine distribution went haywire

DeSantis shares certain unattractive qualities with his political mentor, Donald Trump. One trait is an inflated sense of his own competence. Another is an inability to admit to fault in any way or to learn from errors. Another is to blame everyone else for things that go wrong. And to delight in baiting reporters who document shortcomings in the state’s performance and ask about them. 

All of these have been on display in Florida’s disjointed distribution of vaccines.  

The senior citizens lined up for hours in lawn chairs, some waiting overnight, are ample evidence that the rollout of vaccines has been a chaotic scramble. And every day, DeSantis has a new plan, announced with the bloated overconfidence of one who never doubts his own genius:  

Hospitals will give the shots. Then: Hospitals that don’t move fast enough won’t get as many new shipments of shots.  

Related: Editorial: Transparency needed as state disperses vaccine

Then: Everyone from age 65 on up will get the first crack at the shots, an order that forced county health departments to suddenly scrap the plans they’d made to first vaccinate essential workers such as teachers and supermarket clerks. And by setting the age limit at 65, not 75, DeSantis placed hundreds of thousands more people into the Hunger Games melee for a limited number of shots.  

Then: Publix will offer shots, as if the stores aren’t already filled enough with people buying groceries. 

Many people are asking why it is that desperate Floridians, scrambling to get an appointment, are finding dead phone lines? Navigating overloaded websites? Or, in the case of some especially desperate Palm Beach County residents, traveling to Broward, Miami-Dade, Martin, and Indian River counties, in the not-unreasonable belief that shots are more plentiful there? 

Don’t ask this governor. He’ll snap at you, as he did to a CNN reporter in Miami on Monday, then brag about it on Fox News, where swiping at mainstream news organizations always boosts your popularity. “I’m happy for the criticism because you know what, I don’t seek validation by the media,” he told Tucker Carlson on Tuesday. 

When DeSantis did answer CNN’s Rosa Flores, who asked “what went wrong with the rollout of the vaccine,” he passed the buck by blaming a hospital system (in Lee County) which “didn’t use a registration system” but jabbed arms on a first-come, first-served basis.  

Related: Editorial: Don’t neglect poor, people of color on vaccine priority list

Granted, this isn’t all Florida’s fault. Every state is under strain. There isn’t enough vaccine to go around and the Trump administration failed to make logistical plans beyond shipping doses to states. It has left the rest up to them.  

But DeSantis introduced unique levels of difficulty with his decision to reject the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to vaccinate essential workers ahead of senior citizens. The public health service reasoned, correctly, that teachers and grocery clerks should be protected early because they interact with the public, and that businesses will prosper when the public is confident that employees are deemed safe from the disease. 

But DeSantis, sticking to his myopic conviction that COVID-19 is essentially a problem for the very old — and no doubt eyeing a vital voting bloc — has put Florida’s millions of senior citizens into a vaccine free-for-all. 

At an early point, DeSantis decreed that the first, precious shipments of vaccine would go to five public and private health systems to distribute. Not one of the five is located in Palm Beach County. So, our county’s residents are out in the cold. As of Friday, just 22,935 of the county’s 1.2 million residents had received a first shot, and only 253 the necessary booster.   

The virus, meantime, is on a tear. Infections in Florida reached all-time heights last week, hospitalizations are rising, and the death count, which lags by about five weeks, is bound to follow. Experts warn that the reckless behavior of many over the holidays — in a state that recklessly keeps bars and restaurants wide open — will catapult the black marks much higher still.

It is time for other leaders in Florida to step up and challenge DeSantis’ solo act, starting with Republicans in the Legislature who long ago ceded control of the pandemic response to this one man.

Let us hope that the incoming Biden administration can inject some competence into the various states’ delivery of vaccines. And that DeSantis puts his hubris aside long enough to accept the help.

Editorial written by The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board on behalf of the USA TODAY Network-Florida.

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