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In Latino-heavy Miami, elected officials demand more vaccines for seniors

"Until seniors are vaccinated at higher levels we're not going to take a big bite into hospitalizations," said epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka.
Hospitalization numbers rise sharply as Florida adds 6,587 new COVID-19 cases
Vehicles line up as a health care workers help to check in people being tested at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing center in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Nov. 22, 2020.David Santiago / Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images file

MIAMI — Miami-Dade County has the largest number of seniors, Latinos, Covid-19 infections, and deaths in Florida, but it’s lagging in the number of people over 65 that are being vaccinated.

According to Florida’s data, Miami-Dade has administered the largest amount of vaccines, but an analysis of the data by Florida International University epidemiologist, Dr. Mary Jo Trepka finds the county lags others when considering population size.

Only 29.6 percent of the 65 and older population of Miami-Dade — which numbers 477,205 — has received at least one vaccine, compared to the state average of 34.5 percent, Trepka told NBC News.

Palm Beach County, where former President Donald Trump now resides, has vaccinated over 46 percent of their seniors and has a smaller size of seniors, at 358,002.

“We're trying to keep down the morbidity and mortality and until we get our seniors vaccinated at higher levels, we're not going to be able to take a big bite into hospitalizations,” Trepka said.

The state does not release data on how many vaccines are distributed to each county. Trepka cautioned there are many factors to consider, such as people crossing county lines to get a shot, and whether there is more vaccine hesitancy among communities in some counties versus others.

But county and city officials are demanding more vaccines. Miami-Dade County’s mayor Daniella Levine Cava sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week asking him to “urgently increase the volume” of vaccines in the county.

During an invitation-only event at the White House on Friday with a bipartisan group of mayors and governors, the mayor of the city of Miami, Francis Suarez, asked for more vaccines in order to speed up the process.

Florida State Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who represents an area of Miami, said the current situation was "crazy."

“We're not getting them from the governor,” Taddeo said about vaccines. "This is about fairness and making sure that we are not playing favorites.”

Taddeo said she has reached out to the White House over her concerns. One solution she says she and others believe would work is to get the vaccines directly from the federal government.

Worrying scientists is that Florida leads the nation with the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the U.K. There are concerns the variant could accelerate the amount of cases and deaths before enough people are vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last month that B.1.1.7 could become the predominant strain in the United States by March.

Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, chief of general medicine at the University of Miami Health System, said much of the inequity in vaccine distribution is due to poor planning at the state and federal levels, starting last year. “I’m very angry and upset we didn’t plan this three or four months ago when we should have,” said Carrasquillo.

Carrasquillo is confident that the logistical and supply issues will get solved in the next few months as more vaccines are made and distributed. But aside from that, what worries him the most is the spread of misinformation that is making some in the community fearful of getting vaccinated.

“They know how to say it, how to get people afraid," Carrasquillo said about those spreading false information about the vaccine that is scaring some into not taking it. "They know how to reach our people, and that’s what concerns me."

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