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Florida delivers 28,500 vaccines for medically vulnerable residents under 65

The Agency for Healthcare Administration instructed 27 Florida hospitals to reserve the new batch of 28,500 vaccines for patients under 65 years of age who suffer from life-threatening underlying health conditions and comorbidities - such as cancer patients, transplant patients, and adults with Down Syndrome.

This week, 28,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were delivered to 27 hospitals statewide with specific instructions to be reserved for patients younger than 65 who suffer from significant underlying health conditions and comorbidities.

This follows weeks of collective public outcry, as those with dire needs for the vaccine have taken to social media, appealed to state officials, and other avenues to plead for more access. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, District-49, championed a pressure campaign that has elevated their voices.

“The story of how we got here is through people power and advocacy,” Smith said. “We heard from a lot of constituents who reached out to our office frustrated that they were just hitting these brick walls. Some of these folks are even more medically vulnerable than someone who’s 65 or over – we’re talking about cancer patients, transplant patients, adults living with Down Syndrome.”

Even though Governor DeSantis signed an executive order on Dec. 23 stating that hospitals “also may vaccinate persons who they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19,” Smith said this never really happened.

On Jan. 26, Smith sent an open letter to hospital administrators all over Florida urging them to revisit distribution plans and issue public criteria for eligibility.

Of the 27 hospitals, those in Central Florida include Orlando Health, Advent Health, Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center, Health First Palm Bay Hospital, and Lakeside Regional.

This is the first time the Agency of Healthcare Administration is focusing vaccination efforts on the medically vulnerable, having first prioritized inoculations for healthcare workers and then seniors older than 65.

Spokesperson for Orlando Health Nicole Ray said in an email that they’ve received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and are working through logistics and timing to ensure an efficient vaccination process.

“At the request of AHCA, the 2,000 doses will be directed towards medically vulnerable patients being cared for at Orlando Health,” Ray said.

As far as determining what will be deemed a significant underlying health condition, Ray said the hospital is considering a combination of the patients’ ages and health statuses.

“The phrase ‘extremely vulnerable’ can represent a combination of age and certain conditions including chronic lung diseases, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised states, severe obesity,” Ray said. She also said other underlying medical conditions, if not well controlled, could pose a risk as well, like “diabetes, hypertension, renal failure or liver disease.”

Cerebrovascular disease and neurological conditions such as dementia and Down Syndrome will also be considered.

At Health First Palm Bay Hospital, spokesperson Sara Paulson said in an email that they’ve received 1,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine with the same directives and that they are at the last stages of organizing their distribution.

“We are working with AHCA now to finalize the criteria to administer these vaccines according to the executive order,” Paulson said.

While Smith said he is happy to see movement for this issue, he is still concerned that many folks most at risk for life-threatening complications under COVID-19 are just not getting help in due time. For example, he said adults living with Down Syndrome have been found to be five times the risk for COVID-19-related hospitalization and 10 times the risk for related death.

“It’s not enough. 28,500 doses is going to go overnight,” Smith said. “But it’s a step, and I’m confident the state may allocate additional supplies very quickly.”

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