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DeSantis outlines state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, says vaccines won’t be mandated

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave an update on the State’s plan for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, saying the State is prepared to provide them with, but Floridians won’t be required to have one.

He also talked about new therapeutic treatments that are available to those most vulnerable to the virus.

“The State of Florida has been working to procure the new treatment for our hospitals and has also made plans to assist in the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine, which we believe will be delivered relatively soon,” DeSantis said in a video posted Thursday on YouTube.

The governor also said 3,000 doses of a monoclonal antibody treatment were sent to Florida hospitals with the greatest need recently – and it’s helping to prevent high-risk COVID-19 patients from being admitted. DeSantis said the treatment is significant. He said the State would have thousands of more doses of the treatment weekly.

DeSantis said the progress on a vaccine and the antibody treatment is the greatest rays of hope we have seen since the onset of the pandemic.

“They offer the prospect of saving thousands and thousands of lives and to potentially bring this pandemic to an end.”

Eli Lilly & Company’s monoclonal antibody drug is already helping COVID-19 patients in Florida. Lee Health says it has received some of the doses of bamlanivimab for patients here in Southwest Florida.

“It’s administered through an IV,” DeSantis explained. “It’s best used for people who are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19, and the key is to deliver the IV as soon in the infection as possible.”

The drug is for people who go to the emergency room with a mild to moderate infection. Clinical trials show the treatment reduced hospitalizations by 70%.

“I think that having a therapeutic solution is even better than a vaccine because, if people get sick, having something that will help them get better,” Greg Warner said. “I think it would be wonderful, and it’s quicker.”

We asked NCH if they had received any doses of the Eli Lilly antibody cocktail and/or if they would be receiving any doses in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for NCH said, “We are currently receiving limited allocations of that antibody cocktail from the state of Florida, and those allocations are evaluated by the state on a weekly basis.”

However, many are still holding out hope for a vaccine.

“They’ve promised a vaccine for quite a while now,” Jeff Hartzeln said. “I think everybody is just so sick and tired of being locked up in their house and stuff like that. I think it would be a great idea if they can do that to get it out to everybody.”

The governor said the State has been “actively planning and preparing for vaccine distribution, including by purchasing necessary supplies.” The State has already bought 5 million syringes, 5 million needles, and 5 million alcohol swabs, he said. They’ve identified five hospital systems with the ability to store the vaccine and administer it.

CVS and Walgreens pharmacies will receive the vaccines shortly after to administer to residents of long-term care facilities.

“Our goal is to make all safe and effective COVID vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the State will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines. That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian.”

Still, some people we spoke to in the region were happy to hear there won’t be a mandate.

“Mandates are not good for the general public,” Diane Gouklar said.

“I think it should be a person’s choice,” Leslie Warner said.

The governor says five hospitals in the State have the ability to store vaccines at the required temperatures, but none of them are in Southwest Florida.

Watch the governor’s message below or by clicking here.

Text from Governor DeSantis’ video message:

Hello, this is Governor Ron DeSantis.

This month has brought promising news regarding therapeutics and vaccines to combat COVID-19.

The State of Florida has been working to procure the new treatment for our hospitals and has also made plans to assist in the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine, which we believe will be delivered relatively soon.

I’ve also been able to meet with key officials involved in Operation Warp Speed in Washington and have been able to get key questions answered for the State of Florida.

I know there has been a lot of discussion about the vaccines, and rightfully so, it’s important. But I think the new therapeutic developed by Eli Lilly, and is approved for emergency use by the FDA, is also very significant. 

The treatment is a monoclonal antibody cocktail. It is administered through an IV. It takes about an hour for the IV to be administered, and then an hour to observe the patient afterwards. It is best used for people who are at high-risk of severe complications from COVID-19. 

The key is to deliver the IV as soon in the infection as possible. This will be people who show up to an emergency room, are developing symptoms but are not yet at a critical state, where they would be in an intensive care unit.

Data from clinical trials found a 70% reduction in hospitalized patients who utilized this treatment. We also know that a similar cocktail is being developed by the company Regeneron. That is currently pending before the FDA for emergency use authorization. We think that may also come in the relatively near future. Of course, that would also mean more supply of this particular treatment for folks.

We surveyed all hospitals in Florida to determine demand. We sent that information to the federal government and the Health and Human Services department used that information and have now sent over 3,000 doses of the treatment directly to hospitals. This has arrived just within the past few days, and they plan on sending a similar amount every week for the foreseeable future.

I’ve spoken with a number of hospital CEOs and I’m pleased to report that many have already received the treatment and are moving forward administering the treatment.

We are going to continue to work with hospitals and other providers to ensure that qualifying individuals have access to this treatment.

Now, the vaccine news has been particularly heartening that has come out in the last couple weeks. Since July, we in the State of Florida have been actively planning and preparing for vaccine distribution, including by purchasing necessary supplies. 

To date, we have purchased 5 million syringes, 5 million needles and 5 million alcohol swabs.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have reported vaccines with 95% effectiveness. Those will hopefully within the next few weeks receive FDA approval. The Pfizer vaccine is one that needs to be stored in negative 70-degree temperatures.

The State of Florida has identified 5 different hospital systems who have the ability to store the vaccine at those temperatures and administer that to the qualifying individuals.

The Moderna vaccine can be used in normal refrigeration and does not require those extreme low temperatures. That will potentially provide more flexibility.

Right now, the best estimate that the federal government has is that by the end of December, pending FDA approval, there will be roughly 40 million doses of these two vaccines available. 25 million for Pfizer and 15 million for Moderna.Each individual requires two doses. That would mean there will be enough vaccine for 20 million Americans by the end of December.

The good thing about this is millions of doses are ready to ship as we speak. As soon as the FDA approves, they will then go out within the next 24 hours. We expect our hospitals, hopefully, to receive these within the next 3 to 6 weeks. It is all contingent on when the FDA approves.

Shortly thereafter, or maybe even at the same time that hospitals are receiving the vaccine, both CVS and Walgreens will also begin receiving the vaccine to administer to residents of long-term care facilities, who are of course our most vulnerable citizens when it comes to COVID-19.

So far, nearly 2,000 long-term care facilities have registered so that they can start getting their residents vaccinated as soon as the vaccine arrives.

As we move forward, my administration is going to continue to work hand in hand with our federal partners, and we will provide you updates as soon as we have them.

In fact, I was just in Washington, D.C. meeting with the secretary of HHS and the director of the CDC to ensure that the State of Florida is fully prepared to distribute the vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Our goal is to make all safe and effective COVID vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the State will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines. That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian.

I do believe that these breakthroughs represent probably the greatest rays of hope that we have seen since the pandemic began. They offer the prospect of saving thousands and thousands of lives, and to potentially bring this pandemic to an end. 

Thank you all for all you have been doing. I know it has been tough. We are going to keep working hard to support everyone.

God bless you all.

Reporter:Breana Ross
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