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State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith Says Gov. DeSantis Should Further Expand Vaccine Eligibility

People lined up to get a COVID-19 vaccine at Miami Dade College North Campus on March 6, 2021
Verónica Zaragovia
People lined up to get a COVID-19 vaccine at Miami Dade College North Campus on March 6, 2021

Starting Monday, Floridians ages 50 and over will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expanding eligibility as demand for the vaccine appears to level off.

It comes as the mayors of Orange and Miami-Dade counties announce a different set of plans — lowering the eligibility age at county-run sites to 40 and older. DeSantis said he would continue dropping the age restrictions in the coming weeks as demand decreases.

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Those changes come as the state’s FEMA-supported sites prepare to scale back activity. Beginning next week, FEMA-supported, state-run sites will no longer administer first doses of the Pfizer vaccines. They will transition to giving only second doses of the shot.

For weeks, Orlando-area state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has called on the governor to expand the state’s rules on who can be vaccinated. He joined host Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup to discuss why he feels the governor isn’t going far enough.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation which has been edited for clarity.

TOM HUDSON: You called on the governor to expand eligibility just a few days ago. Are you satisfied with today's announcement that it will go down to 50 years old this coming Monday?

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: Well, Gov. DeSantis is definitely moving in the right direction now that we've lowered the statewide eligibility for the COVID vaccine to 50 and over. Starting Monday, we're going to see the demand begin to increase again. That has been really much-needed because what we've seen across the state is we've seen that demand in Florida — which is severely restricted by Gov. DeSantis's eligibility standards and government paperwork that he's imposed — that demand has not matched up with the existing supply.

So let's take that step by step, representative, in terms of age and paperwork. The paperwork you're referring to, I imagine, is the health form that the Department of Health in the state of Florida is requiring for those who claim to have medical vulnerabilities, who do not meet the age eligibility requirement. Is that correct?

That's right. What happened a few weeks ago is he invented this government-mandated form for people who are medically vulnerable to COVID, which is a problem when you have four million uninsured Floridians. You don't have a doctor who can sign that form.

So that form is not necessary for anybody who meets the age requirement. However, and as the governor is lowering that age requirement in the week ahead, as he did this past week, down to 50, those forms are not required for those that meet that age limit. Correct?

That is correct. What we have, though, is we do have a large population of medically vulnerable people who are younger than age 50. They have continued to struggle to get access to the vaccine because the governor's executive order requires that they have a doctor that they have a long-term relationship with. That is essentially their primary care physician to sign off to say that they're medically vulnerable. We have too many uninsured people in Florida, and that has become a major obstacle to them being able to access the vaccine. And it's totally unnecessary.

Representative, I know here in South Florida, hospitals, for instance, have told us that they are just going on the honor system for people who can't make appointments and are stating that they meet the medical vulnerability requirement.

Yeah, I think that that's actually what we should be doing. We should have an honor system for people who are medically vulnerable. And here's why. Some people may raise their eyebrow and say, "Well, doesn't that mean that some folks who are not supposed to get the vaccine may be dishonest? They may game the system and get the shot before they're supposed to?"

Really the reality is, is that the enemy right now is not vaccinating people who aren't in DeSantis’ priority group. The enemy is leftover vaccine supply. We need to get as many shots in arms as possible.

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Denise Royal produces The Florida Roundup. Her broadcast experience includes writing and producing for NBC’s The Today Show, Weekend Today, Weekend Nightly News, and MSNBC. She also worked as a Writer/Producer for ABC News and Nightly Business Report on PBS.