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Florida expands COVID-19 vaccine to first responders, school personnel who are 50 and older

Effective March 3
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Posted at 3:12 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 08:47:45-05

Exactly one year after the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 surfaced in Florida, the Sunshine State is allowing more people to get vaccinated against the deadly virus.

Speaking in Tallahassee on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced an executive order to expand vaccine eligibility to all sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters, and K-12 school personnel who are 50 and older.

The change is effective March 3.

Brian Coleman, 64, is a virtual teacher in Pinellas County who has been anxiously waiting for his turn. Coleman is considered high-risk for the coronavirus as he battles cancer and COPD.

"It’s frustrating when you’re right there and you are a high-risk candidate, and you can’t get the vaccine because I desperately want it," said Coleman. "I’m grateful that I will be able to sign up."

ABC Action News has learned, the order opens vaccine access to 426 law enforcement and detention deputies at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, 168 deputies in Pasco County and 56 officers at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

"It took me a good six weeks before I started feeling better," said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, who battled the virus in January. "It was a long road, a long journey and that’s why I think it’s so important the more vaccines that we can get out there, the better."

DeSantis said Florida could potentially receive 175,000 doses this week of a new COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday.

"Hopefully, we will get that confirmed that we are gonna receive J&J," DeSantis said. "We think we will, and we think it will be that 175,000. And if it is, we're gonna obviously make sure that that gets put into arms."

The governor added that between the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, an increase in Pfizer doses, and the opening of four federally-operated COVID-19 vaccination sites later this week, Florida can expand vaccine access to more groups.

"We're gonna continue to obviously put seniors first. We're making huge progress on that," DeSantis said.

With three vaccine options now available to Americans -- Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson -- the nation's top infectious disease expert is urging people to not be picky.

"These are three highly efficacious vaccines," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me."

DeSantis echoed those statements on Monday, telling Floridians to not hold out for one vaccine in particular.

"Maybe you have your heart set on Pfizer. If someone offers you J&J, my recommendation should be to take the J&J because it's an effective vaccine," DeSantis said.

Last week, DeSantis signed an executive order to allow physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and pharmacists to administer the coronavirus vaccine to anyone, including those under 65, who are deemed to be "extremely vulnerable to COVID-19."

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 3,017,661 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine in the Sunshine State.