ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The number of Floridians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine expanded on Monday as the state allowed anybody age 50 and up to get the shot, and the county that is home to the state’s biggest theme parks set the bar even lower by allowing anyone age 40 and up to get an injection.
With the loosening of the statewide qualifications, more than a third of Floridians were now eligible to get a vaccine solely based on age at all vaccination sites in the state.
Starting Monday, Orange County expanded the age eligibility a decade lower than the statewide requirement at its county-run facility at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Reservations were required for the drive-thru site at the convention center, and 7,000 appointments were filled within 13 minutes, officials said.
In expanding the eligibility, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said there has been decreasing demand at the convention center site last week. He said he had notified the state and felt he had the authority to expand eligibility in the county. “I don’t feel like I have to get permission to be the mayor of Orange County from Tallahassee,” Demings said.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a mega-sized rest stop in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he had concerns about Orange County “choosing to prioritize a healthy 40-year-old” over older residents. “It’s not authorized,” said DeSantis, who criticized the county for not getting seniors vaccinated at the same rates as other Florida counties.
But Demings, a Democrat, said Monday that his goal was to get as many people in Orange County vaccinated as possible. He didn’t intend to take a political or partisan position against the Republican governor. He took issue with DeSantis’ characterization of the vaccination rate of seniors in Orange County. If the county was behind, the state had picked vaccination sites without consulting local officials, he said. “My goal here is not to make this a personal issue,” Demings said. “This is about the safety of the people in this community.