Just this past month we have continued to witness the backward behavior of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or, as the citizens of Florida call him, Death Santis. I have to admit this is pretty fitting. His first measure was to administer vaccines to senior citizens before healthcare workers and now he creates pop-up vaccine sites in various zip codes some of which are Manatee County’s wealthiest neighborhoods. According to Niki Fried, the state’s Democratic Agricultural Commissioner, at least three pop-up sites have been “organized in wealthy communities affiliated with donors to the governor’s campaign.” He has put profit before marginalized individuals who actually need the vaccine.
As someone with compromised immunity, I am one who is very susceptible to not only catching the virus but if I catch it I could die. Witnessing the sloppy process out in place to access a vaccine is frightening. Not to mention the misleading information administered by the state of Florida.
If you head to https://myvaccine.fl.gov/ you see seven options available:
1. Individuals of 65 years or older
2. Long-term care facility residents and staff
3. Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact
4. Individuals deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 *Persons who are deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by a physician may only be vaccinated by physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and pharmacists. To be vaccinated, you must have been deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by a physician. Appointments for these individuals will be limited to those sites where physicians, APRNs, and pharmacists are administering vaccines.*
5. K-12 School Employees 50 years of age and older
6. Sworn law enforcement officers 50 years of age and older
7. Firefighters 50 years of age and older
Initially, there was no asterisk to show those with pre-existing conditions needed to consult their physicians or ask a hospital if they could qualify for the shot. The page setup stating if you are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 you could register on the site. However, why should someone with a pre-existing condition have the option to sign up through this website if they are not eligible to get vaccinated at any of the listed sites? Not to mention, not all hospitals or physicians will administer the shot to those who do not meet the age or occupation requirements.
When I signed up through the website, I called around to ask if I was eligible to receive the shot. I contacted the Florida Department of Health who initially told me they had nothing to do with the setup of the site. They suggested I call my local department of health. Who was more than helpful.
While Broward County runs sites that administer shots to those 65 and older or healthcare workers, many sites listed on the website will give shots to those who may not meet the criteria. That is because they operate under the state of Florida. For instance, I found out my neighbor booked an appointment for their older relative at one of the vaccine sites on the website. They were under the age of 65, and they were not a healthcare worker.
However, they received the vaccine by saying they take care of their elderly family members. This is only one of many stories on how those who do not qualify to receive the shot yet could do so. The Broward Department of Health confirmed this for me as well. One representative told me that STATE RUN sites can choose who they can give the vaccine to. Even though they are government subsidized locations, they disregard Florida Department of Health guidelines. These sites include Broward Coral Square Mall, Broward Tradewinds, Broward Markham Park, Broward CBRP Vaccine Site, Broward Treetops Park, and Broward Snyder Park.
How can someone with a pre-existing condition get the vaccine?
However, if someone like myself 20 years old with pre-existing conditions would go to a vaccine site and ask for one there is a 50/50 chance I could receive it. Now let’s look at the statement regarding those with pre-existing g conditions once more. Not only is this misleading, but it is very vague too.
Should I ask my physician to give me a COVID shot, I could not receive one. Individual physicians do not possess the COVID-19 vaccine. Hospitals, state-operated vaccination sites, county vaccine sites, and pharmacies carry them. Individual physicians do not. For, the website to state this is misleading, especially if someone asks their doctor for the vaccine. While one statement is true, your physician must deem you extremely vulnerable to covid-19 to quality to receive the shot; she still cannot administer it to you.
Next, I called around to some pharmacies to see if they would offer someone like myself the vaccine. One thing to note is some pharmacies carry it and some do not. None within my zip code or city carried them. The nearest possible locations were Miami or West Palm Beach. First, you must fill out a form on their website to check if you are eligible. It states that if I were 16+ with the signed determination of extreme vulnerability form, I could schedule an appointment. Upon calling a CVS Pharmacy location in Pensacola they informed me they offer the shot as long as I bring a form from my doctor.
Next, I checked out Walgreen’s website. The only locations COVID vaccines are available are in the states of New Mexico, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Finally, Publix. Around a month ago someone like myself was not eligible for the vaccine, only 65+ and healthcare workers. Upon checking back, the pharmacist explained a similar circumstance to CVS. Head to Publix.com to fill out a form to explain why you are eligible, along with a note from your doctor. There is a waiting process on the website that you most likely have to get up at 6 in the morning and sit in line until an appointment becomes available.
Can you receive a vaccine at state-run sites?
This once again begs the question, why is this category on a state-run website for people like myself if we cannot get vaccinated? I called the COVID-19 scheduling line provided for me by one of the vaccine sites listed. It stated that if I was extremely vulnerable, I would need a determination of eligibility form from my doctors to receive the vaccine at one of these state-run sites. This once again baffled me. Now immunocompromised individuals under 65 can receive vaccines at these locations? Despite their website saying we are unable to?
Upon calling the Broward Department of Health, they told me county-run sites are offering shots for 65+ and frontline healthcare workers. For law enforcement, firefighters, and K-12 employees over 50, they schedule appointments through their administration and head to separate sites to get vaccines. They explained that the Florida Department of Health Tallahassee operates the automated scheduling system I called.
Once again I called the Florida Department of Health. It felt as though I was running in circles. I left a message for the State Surgeon General but have not received a callback. Once I could speak to an actual representative, I once again received some vague answers. Their answer depends on the facility I go to. These state-run sites decide who is eligible for a shot. They stated whoever may be at the site and running it that day.
To summarize, the state-operated sites I mentioned at the beginning will give anyone a shot depending on their circumstances, and if they feel it is necessary. There are multiple issues with this sloppy practice, however, no one seems to pay any mind to it.
How to access the vaccine if you have a pre-existing condition and fall below the age requirements
Get a doctor’s note
What to do if you fall within this weird category like myself. You are under the age of 65 with serious pre-existing conditions? Well, here are the steps you need to take. First, contact your doctors, specifically your specialist, your endocrinologist, or any doctor you may have that is not your primary. If you only have a primary, still call them and ask if they will write you a note.
Booking the appointment
Next is booking the appointment. You have a few options here. Head to browardhealth.org, currently, their appointments are full since expanding their age limit to 18+ with pre-existing conditions. The next option would be to head to Jackson Memorial who is doing the same. Again with the same predicament, there are no available appointments.
Should you be able to book an appointment you book the appointment for yourself and in the notes towards the bottom of Broward Health’s form add your conditions. For added safety measures, book an older family member an appointment as well. They may call them before they call you, when they do so you can book an appointment for your entire family should they qualify. It is important you book that older family member an appointment because they may contact you sooner. That’s how I booked my vaccine before the lowered age requirements.
Another suggestion would be to call around to various hospitals in your area to see if they are offering the shot and how to book an appointment. Also, make sure your conditions fall within their guidelines of needing the shot. Depending on the hospital some may find you less at risk than others. For instance, Jackson Memorial told me my conditions were not serious enough to qualify.
Alternate options would be to find any available appointment at a CVS or Publix Pharmacy that carries the shot. Other than that, the last resort would be to head over to a state-run site and hope for the best. This seems to be a waiting game as appointments pile up. The system for individuals with compromised immunities is confusing and sloppy. Given the leadership in Tallahassee, this is not a shock, however, access to safe vaccinations is life-saving and necessary.
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