Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that all residents 18 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by April 5.
"We've now vaccinated over 70 percent of the roughly 4.4 million seniors living in the state," DeSantis said in a video announcement released Thursday morning. "We've also made great progress on those ages 60 to 64 and on those 50 and older, and we're ready to take this step."
Florida residents 40 and above can begin receiving the vaccine on Monday, March 29, while residents 18-39 can begin April 5.
The announcement came a week after the governor lowered the eligibility age to 50. DeSantis cited hospitalization and case rates that have "plummeted" among seniors since vaccine distribution began three months ago.
"We want to keep up that momentum as we expand eligibility to other age groups throughout the state of Florida," DeSantis said, adding that Florida ranks 41st among states for per capita senior mortality.
DeSantis also announced that Walgreens will expand vaccine offerings at an additional 400 Florida stores, adding to the state's 1,600 existing pharmacy locations.
"We've made progress, and I look forward to making sure everyone in Florida who wants a shot can get a shot," DeSantis said. "No mandate, but access for all."
David Peaton, assistant director for Levy County Emergency Management, said vaccine supply has remained steady in recent weeks, but demand has leveled off.
"It's been steady, but we have not had to close down appointments for the last few weeks," said Peaton, who noted that the Gilchrist County health department has also not had to shut down appointments. "We anticipate that might change when it opens up to everybody."
Peaton said local pharmacies have not been running out of vaccine, so he thinks the infrastructure is available to handle the expanded eligibility.
"I think it'll run fairly smoothly," Peaton said.
Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department, applauded the expansion news.
“Expanding the eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccines is an exciting milestone in our community’s battle against COVID-19,” Myers said in a statement. “The benefits of receiving this safe and effective vaccine, developed through a rigorous and transparent process, is a significant step towards a return to normal.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the reaction of Paul Myers.