Elderly forced to sleep in lawn chairs to queue for vaccines in Florida amid chaotic first-come-first-served rollout

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flouted CDC guidelines, making the vaccine available to more people than recommended by the CDC

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 30 December 2020 17:39
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Ron DeSantis: 'we haven't had a lot of problems' in Florida
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Hundreds of seniors spent the night sitting in lawn chairs outside vaccination sites in Lee County in southwestern Florida after the state's Governor Ron DeSantis disregarded CDC guidelines and opened up the vaccinations to more people than recommended for this phase of the process. 

This led to crashed websites, crowded phone lines, and seniors spending the night in queues waiting for first-come-first-served, vaccination centres to open.

ABC News Business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis shared some of what she heard from her family on Twitter.

Public Health officials had to quickly set up vaccination sites all over central Florida as Mr DeSantis strayed from the CDC guidelines on who should be receiving the vaccine at this time. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr DeSantis said there was a recommendation from the CDC to vaccinate "so-called essential workers. What's essential?"

"There's a lot of people who work really hard that the CDC doesn't consider essential, but their family considers them essential. I consider them essential," Mr DeSantis said, arguing that CDC guidelines put young people ahead of seniors.

Florida has the highest share of people over the age of 65 in the US at 20.1 per cent, according to the US Census Bureau. Last year, an estimated 4.5 million people aged over 65 lived in the state. Mr DeSantis said that there are 175 000 doses available in Florida right now, WPTV reported.

"If you have somebody that works for a grocery store or food services that may be 22, they would have priority over someone who is 73," Mr DeSantis said of the CDC guidelines. "If you are over 65, you will get access. It may not be today or next week but as long as there is supply you will have the opportunity to get them," he said.

Mr DeSantis decision to go rogue and make the vaccine available to as many people over 65 as possible led to uncertainty about residency requirements, who required a doctor's note to get vaccinated, and crashing phone lines and websites as elderly residents tried to sign up to get a shot, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Unlike many other political leaders, Mr DeSantis has declined to get vaccinated before senior citizens in his state. Despite battling the virus in October, President Trump has also so far not been vaccinated. Mr DeSantis won the Florida governorship in a tight 2018 race after being a congressman for the previous five years. 

Often called a "mini-Trump", Mr DeSantis has closely followed Mr Trump's lead, both in office and on the campaign trail. Mr DeSantis has been criticised for putting few restrictions on Floridians during the pandemic. Over 21 000 people have died in Florida from COVID-19, out of 1.3 million cases. The US total number of COVID-related deaths is fast approaching 340 000 out of almost 20 million cases.

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