Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says the state isn’t distributing vaccines equally to those who need them.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s top elected Democratic official is calling upon Gov. Ron DeSantis to broaden what she calls “actual eligibility” to the state’s COVID-19 vaccines.
A quick thing to do: drop the doctor’s note requirement, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Monday with State Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, at a vaccine site at Florida A&M University.
In the meantime, she alluded to the many hoops people have to go through to get a shot in the arm. Most COVID-19 vaccine sites across Florida are by appointment only, and the sign-up process has been marred by confusion and a patchwork of county-by-county guidelines.
Although Florida is distributing more shots today than ever before, Fried says there remains a lack of clarity because she says the state doesn’t have an official vaccine plan.
DeSantis last month defended the state’s vaccine rollout.
“Some sites require a form, some don’t. Some (vaccine sites) are vaccinating all the teachers, some aren’t. Some doctors are even charging $350 in order to be giving them that precious letter for qualifying somebody,” charged Fried, referring to the Department of Health’s form doctors use to certify a person is “extremely vulnerable to COVID-19,” making them eligible to get a vaccine.
“And if you have a doctor, it is part of the problem that we’ve got almost 3 million Floridians that don’t have a primary care physician because they can’t afford health insurance or go into a doctor.”
Fried said DeSantis and health care officials need to put forth a policy that allows anyone to show up to a vaccine distribution site and show a prescription bottle, medical bill or the like and have them be accepted to get a vaccine. The current process so far, Fried says, has led to a disparity of who’s getting the shot.
More than 2.4 million white people in Florida have either received their first or second dose, according to the Department of Health. The same applies to 608,061 people of color – 565,457 people who received a vaccine are of “unknown” race, the department’s latest data shows.
“The governor has the power to make these changes and to work with our local health departments to make sure that those that are medically vulnerable have as equal opportunities, access and leisure of getting the vaccines into their arms,” Fried said.
The top Democrat also renewed accusations of DeSantis “playing politics” with vaccines. Last week, Fried said she wants the FBI to investigate reports of the governor receiving political donations from wealthy communities given a vaccine distribution site.
DeSantis said one such report from the Miami Herald was a hit-piece.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the governor’s office for comment on Fried’s news conference but has not yet heard back.
Florida next Monday will lower its vaccine age requirement to 60, meaning anyone over the age of 60 – not 65 – will be eligible to receive a shot. Health care officials and long-term care facility residents and staff also are considered eligible under the state’s guidelines.
So, too, are K-102 school employees, law enforcement officers and firefighters age 50 and older.
“We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to get a vaccine who may be at increased risk,” DeSantis said during a news conference.
►Breaking news and weather alerts: Get the free 10 Tampa Bay app