TAMPA, Fla. — The first month of the COVID vaccine roll-out in Florida has been characterized as confusing and chaotic, even though the state had months to come up with a distribution plan.
The I-Team talked with Lt. Gen Russel Honore’ (RET), who led the response after Hurricane Katrina and was appointed last week to head up the investigation into the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
He has first-hand information about what went wrong with the vaccination plan and what’s needed to fix it.
Long lines, hours on hold and crashed websites were all fallout from Florida’s COVID vaccine roll-out.
Michael DelGrosso lined up at 5 a.m. at a Citrus County site.
“There was about a four-mile wait of cars in front of me. I don’t know what time these people got up,” DelGrosso said.
He was sent home without a vaccination and has been unable to book an appointment since.
“I keep getting the same information every day, that there are simply no vaccinations and we won’t notify you when more become available,” DelGrosso said.
Kim Flowers got an appointment through her primary caregiver in Pinellas County.
“She scheduled me for a vaccine on Jan. 18. Then they called just a little while ago to say the appointment was canceled because they were out of vaccines,” Flowers said.
“We’re better than that as a nation. We have better systems than that,” said Lt. Gen. Russel Honore’.
Honore’ is described as the hero who saved New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina battered the city in 2005, exposing deep-rooted problems in America’s disaster response preparedness.
He says he told President Trump in April that the National Guard should be mobilized to provide 24-hour-a-day testing and later vaccinations.
“We got that as far as the White House and they said 'no, we don’t want to do it that way. Let the governors figure it out,'” Honore’ said.
The problem with that? There are now 50 different solutions.
“There’s a reason we don’t allow governors to control the airport in their states. Because they would have the Goddamn planes running into each other," Honore’ said.
And Lt. Gen. Honore’ said the federal agencies that should have been offering guidance didn’t.
“What in the hell was the CDC and HHS doing? It should have been in their wheelhouse to get the states ready to give the shot,” he said.
The CDC’s guidelines were suggestions, not mandates. So they often were ignored.
Gov. Ron DeSantis put seniors ahead of people with chronic conditions, school teachers and frontline workers like mail carriers and grocery store clerks.
“All these sites we want seven days a week. We’re trying to hit strong numbers,” Gov. DeSantis said, last week at a press conference at a COVID vaccination site in Bradenton.
Demand for the vaccine has far outpaced supply.
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“You have only 1.6 million doses. We cannot give them to 4 million people…right? That’s reality,” said Dr. Tinlong Dai, an operations management and business analytics professor at John Hopkins University.
Dai says Florida has only given about 40 percent of the available dose because of a manpower shortage, which he says is a nationwide issue.
“We also should have as many points of distribution as possible. That’s the only way for us to be able to get this done,” Dai said.
“The complexity of that vaccine is different than anything we’ve ever experienced in healthcare,” said Dr. Mark Moseley of University of South Florida Healthcare. “It’s developed at very specialized facilities. The manufacturing, the distribution. When it gets to us, the storage with minus 80 degrees Celcius freezers. They’re very expensive and complex. “
“How do you get that shot and have a capacity to give that shot, so we don’t have vaccine sitting on the shelf? And in this first phase, that has been the case,” said Honore’.
Health officials initially saved second doses for each person vaccinated, but as production has ramped up, the CDC now recommends giving vaccines as they arrive.
And the state has announced the opening of dozens of new vaccination sites.
“We’re gonna do significantly more shots this week than last week throughout the state. And as long as we get more supply, we’ll do more shots next week than we’ve done this week. So that’s the type of momentum that I think we want to continue,” said Gov. DeSantis.
”Just like we saw in testing early on in this pandemic, it was a little slow, but it picked up really quickly as we gained more experience with what was necessary to do that safely and effectively. I think you’re seeing the same thing with the vaccine,” said Moseley.
A month into the process, there’s still no guess as to when the state expects all Florida seniors to be vaccinated.
“In the meantime, the most effective weapon we have is staying home, wear your mask, wash your hands and social distance,” said Honore’.
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