DeSantis: COVID vaccine could be available to all Florida residents in April

Nathan Cobb
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — By as early as April, the COVID-19 vaccine could be available to anyone in the state who wants it, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday. 

DeSantis also said he could announce a reduction in the age requirement to get the vaccine on Friday. 

More:COVID-19 vaccine tracker: See how many people in Florida have been vaccinated, by county, state

He discussed the vaccine during a press conference outside Panama City's A.D. Harris Learning Center, a local vaccination site that is temporarily administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to those 55 years old and older. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that the COVID-19 vaccine could be available to the general public by as early as this April.

"We're going to keep dropping the age, I'll have an announcement on that maybe tomorrow," DeSantis said. "The demand (has) really started to go down amongst elderly, so that means you're getting it where it needs to go. We also feel that over the next however many weeks we have an opportunity to really get it into the 55 and up category and potentially by sometime in April, just open it up to everyone who wants it."

He noted that demand for the vaccine was slowing, indicating that in the coming weeks it could be possible to administer shots to anyone who wanted them. 

DeSantis also mentioned that Florida would have no vaccine passports or require proof of vaccines to get into events and other places, unlike other states that are discussing such a measure.

While DeSantis said earlier this week that he would soon lower the eligibility age to 55 for COVID-19 vaccinations, he did not give a specific day for the announcement.

Among those who were vaccinated Thursday at the A.D. Harris Learning Center was Russell Chilvruss, a 59-year-old Georgia resident who said he and his wife have been vacationing in the area since March 1.

As Chilvruss stood alongside others who had just received the vaccine and were waiting to see if they had any adverse reactions, he added that his wife was a few years older than him and already received both shots of the Moderna vaccine, which he was unable to get because of his age.   

“I saw this on the news last night and just signed up and got an appointment,” Chilvruss said. “I like the one dose better. I love that one-dose shot.”

According to DeSantis, early studies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine showed it to be less affective than the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines at preventing mild coronavirus cases. He added that it's still "100% effective at preventing death and hospitalization."

Supplies for the one-dose vaccine are running short in Florida, and there likely won't be another shipment for at least the next two weeks, if not longer, DeSantis said. 

“We’re about done with the initial 175,000 (doses) that we got,” he said. “If you can get the J&J, we recommend you take it, but also if you’re waiting for the J&J, just understand that it may not be something that is available in the near future just due to the production. If you have a chance to get Pfizer, if you have a chance to get Moderna now, you probably should take that.”

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki added that it feels nice to know Panama City has remained on DeSantis' radar in the face of the ongoing pandemic. 

Brudnicki also said he believes the governor's steady support is something the area has seen since it was devastated by Hurricane Michael more than two years ago. 

"This is another example today of him thinking about the people in Bay County," he said. "To know that the elderly people (who) of course are more vulnerable have access (and) can get (the vaccine) soon ... that's a good thing. People want to be safe, and that's what our job is, to keep them safe."