WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s press secretary said Monday that Florida has used only half of its COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, noting that the state — where over-65 residents have been struggling to get appointments for the shots — has “a good deal of the vaccine.”
The comments from press secretary Jen Psaki came after she was asked during a White House briefing about criticism last week from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Biden’s vaccine distribution plan. Biden plans to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to help with distributing COVID-19 vaccines, an idea DeSantis called a “big mistake.”
On Jan. 19, he said, “I saw some of this stuff Biden’s putting out, that he’s going to create these FEMA camps. I can tell you, that’s not necessary in Florida.”
But Monday, Psaki pointed out that only about half of the COVID-19 vaccines given to the state of Florida by the federal government have been put in someone’s arm.
“And I will note, because we’re data-first here, facts-first here, they’ve only distributed about 50% of the vaccines that they have been given in Florida, so clearly they have a good deal of the vaccine,” Psaki said. “That supply will need to continue to increase as they are able to effectively reach people across the state, but part of the challenge, as we were just talking about, is not just having the supply, that’s pivotal, but also having vaccinators and having vaccine distribution places and doing it in a way that’s reaching people where they are and meeting local communities.”
DeSantis, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Psaki’s remarks, said earlier on Monday that information about how many vaccines have been administered isn’t up to date.
“I remind people, what’s reported is lagging,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Jacksonville on Monday, before Psaki’s remarks. “I mean you really need to give it three, four, five days. So almost assuredly we’ve done much in excess of a million seniors already.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Florida has used 53% of COVID-19 doses that have been distributed to the state by the federal government. Florida’s 53% usage rate of COVID-19 doses is the same as the national average, which ranges from a high of 84% of distributed doses used in North Dakota to a low of 42% in Virginia. In Florida, 6.4% of the state’s population has gotten at least one shot of the vaccine, above the national average of 5.6%.
DeSantis, a Republican and vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, said the federal government is responsible for getting vaccines to the state.
“They’re in control of this,” DeSantis said. “We don’t have a big cache sitting around in the state. We only get what they send us. The sole focus for the federal government should be increasing the doses available for the states.”
According to the CDC, more than 1.5 million shots have been given in Florida, though just 0.9% of the population has been given two doses. Both approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two shots that are given weeks apart.
A day before Biden’s inauguration DeSantis said that adding FEMA to vaccine distribution plans wasn’t necessary.
“To try and reinvent the wheel at this point I think would be a big mistake,” DeSantis said last week. “The more bureaucracy that’s involved in this, the worse it’s going to be. All we need is more vaccine. Just get us more vaccine.”
A White House official denied that Psaki’s remarks were a targeted attack on DeSantis, but said the administration will continue to make the case that governors, Republican and Democratic, should want strong partnerships with the new administration as it builds out a coordinated national vaccination plan — something the Biden White House says the previous administration failed to do, contributing to the slow rollout in Florida.
Psaki said Biden will be focused on vaccine distribution “in a bipartisan manner, regardless of what any elected official may have to say.”
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked if the issue with vaccine distribution in Florida is with the Florida Department of Health or with local vaccine providers, such as pharmacies. Florida has started to shift away from hospital-run vaccine sites to vaccines distributed by pharmacies and county governments.
McClatchy DC reporters Michael Wilner and Francesca Chambers contributed to this report. Tampa Bay Times reporters Lawrence Mower and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.