As Florida struggles to meet demand for COVID-19 vaccinations while grappling with a slowdown in federal vaccine supplies, state records show more than 40,000 people are overdue for their second dose.
The data was stripped from Florida’s daily vaccination report Wednesday and will no longer be included to avoid confusion with federal guidance on when people need to complete their two-dose series of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
People should get their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine after the recommended window — three weeks for Pfizer, one month for Moderna — but the timing doesn’t have to be exact for you to get protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While this means the 44,470 people Florida labeled as “overdue” are still eligible to get their booster shot, the data also shows that there’s an issue with the vaccine rollout, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
DeSantis says Florida can vaccinate many more, but supply isn’t there
And the problem isn’t just in the Sunshine State.
The slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines — including delayed deliveries, states receiving fewer doses than expected and seniors struggling to schedule appointments — has some worrying about their second dose.
“The fact that states have people who are overdue is just reflective of the fact that we have supply constraints across the country, and not just supply constraints, but logistical constraints of getting people in to get their vaccine,” said Adalja. “And much of this was all predicted, and preventable, if there would have been funding and dedication to this issue early on rather than just on Christmas weekend, finally getting the funding.”
How long can you wait for your second COVID-19 vaccine dose?
Currently, the two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States — Pfizer and Moderna — require two doses, 21 and 28 days apart, respectively. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the drugmakers behind the vaccines said the booster shot is needed after this prescribed time frame for maximum protection.
The first shot starts building protection. Your second injection completes the protection, even if it’s up to six weeks (42 days) after the first dose, according to new guidance issued Thursday by the CDC.
While there is limited data on how well the vaccines would work after this window, the CDC says there is no evidence to suggest anyone would need to restart the two-dose series. You still need to get the two doses for full protection.
A CDC spokeswoman told the Miami Herald on Thursday that the agency was “not trying to promote delays of the second dose as a strategy to get more people vaccinated with the first dose” but to give jurisdictions more flexibility in their vaccination distribution.
On Tuesday, the last day Florida’s daily COVID-19 vaccine report included an “overdue” count, 44,470 people had passed the recommended time frame to receive their booster shot since the state began administering vaccines last month.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management, which is tasked with the state’s vaccine distribution, did not respond to the Miami Herald’s inquiry until late Wednesday, when the data was removed.
The division said the “overdue” count was removed to match CDC guidance and that the state’s health department is working directly with counties and local providers to make sure “individuals are being proactively scheduled to receive their second dose.”
It did not answer questions on whether limited vaccine availability or logistic issues in appointment scheduling played a role in why some individuals did not get their second dose in the recommended period. The data’s removal also comes several days after top state health officials acknowledged that Florida is in a “supply-limited situation.”
DeSantis: Most of the second COVID-19 vaccine doses will arrive soon
In South Florida, seniors are still struggling to book vaccination appointments. And for some, the process of confirming their second dose appointment through county- and state-run sites has also been filled with mixed signals.
At least two hospitals — Baptist Health of South Florida and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach — have had to cancel first-dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments because of supply constraints. Both hospitals say second-dose appointments will not be affected.
Florida is also in the process of shifting its vaccination efforts away from hospital-run sites toward pharmacies and county-run vaccination sites, the Miami Herald previously reported.
But, if the state wants people to feel confident about getting the vaccine, it needs to be more transparent about what’s happening with the second doses, said Adalja, the senior scholar from Johns Hopkins.
He said officials need to be clear on whether their priority is first or second doses. They also need to give a clear explanation on how people will get their second dose. Otherwise, folks might get discouraged.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference in Key Largo that the state is vaccinating people at a faster pace than what the supply coming in is. For those who received their first dose, many of the second shots have not arrived yet, but DeSantis said they should soon.
“What I would tell seniors is, Florida is committed to the two-dose regimen for Pfizer and Moderna,” DeSantis said.
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