ERIC BAZAIL-EIMIL: Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that seniors ages 65+ will be the first to receive COVID vaccines, allowing them to skip the line before essential workers and healthcare workers, contradicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And all hell broke loose the minute distribution began.
Headlines described the “long lines, crashing websites” and conflicting information, the “” scenes as were forced to wait overnight and scoured local hospitals.
On Twitter, Rebecca Jarvis of ABC News posted a viral thread about the bungled rollout in Southwest Florida, detailing how hundreds lined up to get vaccinated, often without masks, and overwhelmed local officials told seniors to show up with warm clothes, blankets, water, and their medications given the wait times.
Rising star Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D- Orlando) wrote in response : “We had long car lines in Orange County too, with no accessible restrooms for seniors who needed it.”
It’s gotten so bad that Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and a bipartisan group of Congressmembers have all for federal probes of the vaccine rollout.
How could Governor DeSantis and the Florida state government fumble this rollout so royally, especially when the stakes remain so high?
As a member of a multigenerational household, I feel especially failed by the state government. My grandmother, an 88-year old asthma sufferer with high blood pressure and other risk factors, has lived with us since just before my birth. When I was a toddler, and my mother still worked, she watched over me. When I was young, she was a key part of our family’s fabric, helping my mom with childcare and regularly enlisting my brother and me in the kitchen to help with baking cakes and cookies and muffins. And even now, as her older age makes her less involved in day to day family activities, it’s hard to imagine life without her. It’s why we’ve taken CDC guidelines seriously, foregoing in-person interactions with friends, rarely leaving the house save for runs or quick errands, furiously wiping down every item we purchase at the grocery store to make sure nothing comes into the house that could harm her.
This is why the early arrival of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines initially filled me with great hope. No, Abuela getting vaccinated wouldn’t be a carte blanche for us to ignore social distancing guidelines. After all, we still have our health problems that necessitate our continued adherence to social distancing, mask usage, etc. But it would give us a greater peace of mind- one that would remove some of the constant inner terror we have experienced over the last few months.
Instead, we must now wait until February to book Abuela an appointment in Broward County. In the interim, we contend with faulty appointment websites unable to handle the entirely predictable traffic they’ve received as concerned Floridians search for a way to get vaccinated, massive gaps in terms of vaccine accessibility and distribution , and a growing sense of despair and frustration and pain.
Quick and effective vaccine distribution is critical for Florida’s population. Over 20% of Florida’s population is over 65, the second-highest proportion in the entire country. Florida ranks among the top fifteen states in terms of the percentage of multigenerational households. Almost 1.3 million Floridians have been diagnosed with COVID, with over 21,000 deaths and counting as the state lag in reporting deaths continues.
Even if the Federal government had significantly botched the distribution stage of Operation Warp Speed, states still had time to prepare and minimize harm. And throughout this pandemic, Florida, mainly for political reasons, had been by the Trump administration in terms of supplies and access to equipment. If any state had the capacity, beyond just the moral imperative, to develop an effective vaccine distribution strategy even in the face of such major national disarray, it was Florida.
Throughout this election, I often reflected on an idea that Adam Serwer of The Atlantic noted back in 2018, that cruelty is very much the objective of Trumpian politics. As he , Trumpian politics is “community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.” Apostle Ron DeSantis clearly didn’t fall from the tree.
Cruelty reigns in Florida. Governor DeSantis’s political ambitions and desires for self-preservation in the age of the Trump GOP have inspired in him an absolute indifference to the value and dignity of human life. It is the certain hubris of a man who has the privilege of hosting maskless holiday parties at the Governor’s Mansion while urging that schools open, all restrictions on restaurants and businesses ends immediately and that we work towards herd immunity, regardless of the costs. The unmistakable hubris of a man who did a victory lap when lockdowns created a short decline in cases and then proceeded to fiddle as Rome burned and tens of thousands of daily infections were reported.
Families like mine are caught in this cruelty, and millions in Florida will pay the price. And all we can do is pray that change comes soon.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a second-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin America and Africa as a Regional and Comparative Studies major. A native South Floridian and a proud Cuban-American, Eric’s column “The Florida Project” appears biweekly in “On the Record.”
Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on January 10, 2021.