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Legislative Commission OKs $750 Million Budget Amendment To Help Battle COVID

Maria Oramas gets the first dose of the Pzifer COVID-19 vaccine, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Miami.
Marta Lavandier
Maria Oramas gets the first dose of the Pzifer COVID-19 vaccine, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Miami.

The Department of Health plan calls for a “three-pronged strategy” to attack the pandemic, including funding for testing, support staff and a media marketing campaign.

Even as there are signs that the latest round of COVID-19 infections may have finally peaked, Florida is pushing ahead with a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the months ahead to pay for testing, medical staff support and a media campaign to encourage vaccinations.

State legislators on Friday signed off on two substantial budget amendments for the Department of Health totaling nearly $750 million. The money comes from federal coronavirus relief funding that the state has received over the past two years.

Michele Tallent, Department of Health deputy secretary for administrative services, told the Joint Legislative Budget Commissionthat $480 million will go toward a “three-pronged strategy” designed to battle COVID-19. The plan includes $355 million for testing support for both public and private health labs.

The strategy also includes $113 million to pay for a surge in medical support staff and $12 million for a media campaign to encourage vaccinations that will include both television and radio advertisements.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, questioned whether $12 million would be enough to pay for a robust advertising campaign in Florida, which has multiple media markets. She also wanted to know more about the populations and geographic regions that would be served.

Tallent briefly explained that the campaign would target vaccine hesitancy and also be aimed at high-risk and vulnerable populations.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 11.4 million people in Florida --- 53.4 percent of the state's population --- have been fully vaccinated. Florida has the 22nd highest vaccination rate in the country.

Legislators on Friday also signed off on a $263 million budget amendment to beef up staffing at county health departments. Staff will focus on disease investigation, outreach and testing.

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida