Florida's COVID-19 vaccination count jumps 263,000 in two weeks. DeSantis officials won't say why

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As the first COVID-19 shots entered the arms of Florida’s youngest children in the past two weeks, the state’s vaccination count inexplicably jumped by six figures after months of decline that DeSantis administration officials have refused to explain.

The Florida Department of Health on Friday added more than 263,000 people to the state’s inoculation tally since its last COVID report published June 17, the biggest two-week increase since December. The state had shaved more than 67,000 people off its tally since April 8.

When asked Friday to explain the unusual fluctuation in the vital measure of how many Floridians are protected against the deadly respiratory disease, health department press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in an email, “Please read the last page of the report.” He did not elaborate on how the department chose whom to include in its immunization statistics. The last page of the report contains no explanation.

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Florida overcounts inoculations by more than 600,000 people because vaccine providers have been erroneously classifying out-of-staters as Florida residents, The Palm Beach Post first reported in March. State health officials have no plan to fix this or investigate, Redfern said at the time.

Nearly 15.9 million “residents” have received at least one shot, including more than 5.8 million with boosters, the state Health Department reported Friday. That tally includes 4,305 children between 6 months and 4 years old, or about 0.4% of that age group.

Florida was the only state that did not preorder the federally approved vaccines for kids before the June 14 deadline because, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, the risks to children outweigh the benefits.

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Pediatrician Emy Jean-Marie, right, holds her daughter Emiola Adebayo, 3, on her lap as the girl reacts after receiving a vaccine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami. Florida is the only state that didn't pre-order the under-5 vaccine, and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has recommended against vaccinating healthy children. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Pediatrician Emy Jean-Marie, right, holds her daughter Emiola Adebayo, 3, on her lap as the girl reacts after receiving a vaccine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami. Florida is the only state that didn't pre-order the under-5 vaccine, and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has recommended against vaccinating healthy children. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The state’s COVID death toll climbed an average of 398 deaths a week since June 17, the highest level since the week ending March 25, but still lower than most weeks since the pandemic started.

Deaths have been climbing in the wake of the latest surge, driven by subvariants of the coronavirus omicron strain. But so far, officials have recorded fewer new fatalities compared to the omicron and delta mutation waves.

Florida’s death toll stood Friday at 75,891 residents. But that excludes more than 3,000 victims who died in 2020 from March to October and for which physicians listed the disease as a main cause of death, a report released June 6 by the Florida Auditor General revealed.

Signs that the latest coronavirus surge is slowing could be seen this week in hospitals.

Florida’s COVID-positive patient tally climbed by 117 this week, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported Friday. The patient tally grew by 120 during the week ending June 23. Hospitals tended to 3,457 patients Friday.

From mid-May to mid-June, medical staff tended to more than 300 new patients each week.

DeSantis said in January that his administration would report patients who came to the hospital with COVID separately from those who tested positive while there. That has yet to happen.

He has speculated that the severity of the disease has been exaggerated because of patients who come to emergency departments for non-COVID reasons but are diagnosed in the hospital.

Sewage readings across the state are also pointing to a potential end to the latest viral wave.

The number of viral particles per milliliter declined in the two weeks ended Wednesday in wastewater samples tested from Miami-Dade and Orange counties. Molecular readings appear to have plateaued in Pinellas and Seminole counties.

Biobot Analytics, a Boston-based laboratory, collects and tests the samples.

Florida health officials logged 74,157 new infections since June 17, a slight decrease from two weeks before. It’s the first decline the state has reported since the two weeks ending March 25.

Almost 6.5 million COVID cases have been documented since the start of the pandemic. Many have gone uncounted with the rise of at-home tests, whose results aren’t reported in official statistics.

Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post's data reporter. Email him at cpersaud@pbpost.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida's COVID vaccine rate jumps, DeSantis officials won't say why