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Is Florida ready to increase COVID-19 vaccine access to those 50 and older?

'We're now at an impressive 7 million doses,' epidemiologist Jason Salemi says
Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 19:37:12-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Starting Monday, Florida is opening up COVID-19 shots to anyone 50 and older.

The governor announced the age reduction Friday morning, signing an executive order a short time later.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said demand for shots had softened enough he felt comfortable lowering the age. That was despite not receiving an uptick in supply.

"We were getting reports by Tuesday saying, well, you know, we opened up appointments and it took five hours to fill," the Republican said. "That would not have happened at the beginning of January. They would have been gone in five minutes."

Per the governor's orders, Florida has focused on its most vulnerable population since the start of the year. Seniors are first in line.

RELATED: Doctor encouraged by Florida opening vaccine to more people

To date, medical workers have given more than 3 million of Florida's 65 and older residents a shot. That's more than 67% of the age group.

University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he felt the state was ready for the change and that the data backed the governor's decision.

"Yeah, you know, I think, in part, we are," Salemi said. "We're now at an impressive 7 million doses that have been administered."

Salemi also said the age drop would mean more shots reach those most likely to be exposed, despite being less vulnerable.

Jason Salemi speaks about opening up COVID-19 vaccine in Florida
"We're now at an impressive 7 million doses that have been administered," University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi says.

"These are the people in which the virus is replicating and likely going to continue to mutate," Salemi said. "So I think vaccinating those people is really important and let's do it as fast as possible."

DeSantis said Florida was in a position to do that soon. Before May, he promised he would open up vaccination to people even younger, including teenagers.

"Anyone who qualifies under the EUA (emergency use authorization)," DeSantis said. "So the 16 or the 18 and up, depending on the shot. We probably can just open it up to everybody."

DeSantis said he was encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, though he reiterated he will not mandate vaccinations or require vaccine passports.

Until his order takes effect, Florida remains at 60 and older for vaccination. There are carve-outs for first responders, teachers and those especially vulnerable.