Florida governor walks back claim over 1 millionth shot

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FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2020, file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asks Vera Leip, 88, how she feels after nurse Christine Philips, left, administered the Pfizer vaccine at John Knox Village, in Pompano Beach, Fla. DeSantis is walking back his claims that his state has now vaccinated 1 million seniors. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a made-for-TV moment: A 100-year-old World War II veteran getting a vaccine against the coronavirus. “An American hero,” the governor proclaimed Friday, would be the 1 millionth senior in his state to get a lifesaving shot in the arm.

As it turned out, the assertion was premature, and the Republican governor later walked back the claim, saying instead that the injection was symbolic of the state being on track to hit 1 million doses soon.

State officials acknowledged that it could take a few more days to reach the milestone. DeSantis' own health department reported that, as of Thursday, fewer than 840,000 seniors had received the shot.

The governor's misstep came as Florida's congressional Democrats, in a letter to DeSantis, expressed “serious concerns with the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine," even as DeSantis has barnstormed the state in recent days to announce the expansion of vaccination sites.

The Democrats said more than 1 million unused vaccines were “on hold” in Florida, suggesting the state was not expeditiously administering them.

The letter chided the governor for confusing and misleading the public on vaccine distribution and availability, citing “a perception of unfairness and political motivation.” Democrats also faulted him and his administration for the delay in establishing a statewide system to schedule vaccination appointments.

State officials had no immediate comment on any of those assertions.

Earlier this week, the Florida Health Department expanded a new telephone appointment system meant to help counties better handle the demand for vaccines, but state officials pleaded with the public to be patient. The pilot program was rolled out in Miami-Dade County last week and then expanded to some of the state’s largest counties — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Lee.