An executive order takes effect Wednesday, in part, expanding who can administer COVID-19 vaccines to those deemed extremely vulnerable to the virus.
The Florida Department of Health released via Twitter a copy of the form a physician must use to certify someone is extremely vulnerable to the virus and eligible to receive the vaccine, hours before the order takes effect.
Pursuant to EO 21-47, the Department has published a form for physicians to certify that they have determined an individual to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 & eligible to receive the vaccine. This form will be used across Florida beginning tomorrow - https://t.co/F0vaSFnFng— Florida Dept. Health (@HealthyFla) March 3, 2021
Hospitals have already been able to give vaccines to those they deemed extremely vulnerable. Under an order issued Friday, physicians, advanced practice registered nurses and pharmacists were given permission to administer them, too.
A physician must determine someone is extremely vulnerable.
On Monday, another order added that includes a statement the patient meets eligibility criteria established by a form from the Florida Department of Health.
The form asks a physician to provide their information, certify they have a physician-patient relationship with the patient, and that they’ve determined that person is "extremely vulnerable to COVID19 for the purposes of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in the state of Florida."
What qualifies someone in this category is left for hospitals and physicians to decide.
“Hospital providers and physicians work closely with their patients on a continuous basis and are the most appropriate entity to determine who would be extremely vulnerable to this virus. The state has asked hospitals and physicians to make their own determinations on who would qualify when vaccinating extremely vulnerable individuals,” the Florida Division of Emergency Management stated.
“Oh, I was so excited. I was jumping on the computer right away to try to get an appointment,” said Christina Parente said Tuesday evening. Parente said she has COPD and diabetes, making her high risk.
She secured an appointment through Publix before Monday’s update.
“It has been crazy. It’s very confusing because when I signed up they did say high risk deemed by a physician. So I called my doctor's office and I asked them you know can you write me a note do I need that and they said they called me back and they said as far as right now the health department does not require doctor's notes,” she said.
A spokesperson for Publix said they will vaccinate those a physician considers extremely vulnerable. Beginning for appointments booked Wednesday for doses administered on and after Friday, they will require the form. They will honor Wednesday and Thursday appointments since they were booked prior to additional guidance on the executive order.
Rebekah Nelson, who said she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when younger, logged on Wednesday morning.
“It was just so confusing because I asked my doctors and they weren’t really having the knowledge or the information so just kind of relying more on social media than anything else to figure out where exactly I could go,” she said.
After a wait, she was able to secure an appointment about two hours away.
“I’m very limited in what I do with my everyday interactions ever since last year so having that vaccine and having that safety of being able to go out was definitely a priority for me,” Nelson said.
ABC Action News checked in with other pharmacies throughout the week.
CVS said it’s working closely with the state and will “develop a process that ensures that patients have access to vaccines in line with the Governor's new executive order.”
A spokesperson for the parent company of Winn-Dixie said its working with the state to implement changes to its current system to serve all eligible customers in the newly added group.
“We will be progressively adapting our process to get vaccines to those with a qualified need without creating an excessive burden of verification on our pharmacy teams in stores,” stated Joe Caldwell, the director of corporate communications and government relations for Southeastern Grocers. “We expect to have these changes implemented into our process within the week, and we ask our customers to be patient while we adjust to the evolving eligibility criteria.
We understand the sense of urgency, as well as the importance of proper protocols and detailed implementation, and we're working hard with our partners to attain that balance.”
Walmart previously said it was in the process of updating its internal processes and scheduling system to reflect new eligibility.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management said federally-supported vaccination sites in Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville are being “augmented with the appropriate medical personnel” that can vaccinate people considered extremely vulnerable by a physician, who present the Department of Health form. Initially, the state said the sites were not able to vaccinate this group before providing an update.
ABC Action News is continuing to check in with the state on the pre-registration process for these sites. You can also walk-up to make an appointment, though you may not be able to receive a vaccine the same day.
“This opens up a lot of doors and gives a lot of sense of relief for people who struggle with chronic medical conditions,” said Dr. Deepa Verma, of Synergistic Integrative Health.
She said people should talk to their physician to ask if they qualify. She points to people who are medically vulnerable.
“So these are people who have chronic medical conditions most likely just underlying metabolic disease, things like obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, these are the setup factors for people to have inflammation,” she said.
“The first one would be COPD, emphysema that’s going to be a big one. Diabetes, in our practice HIV is a factor,” said Dr. Bob Wallace.
Wallace said his office’s phone started ringing first thing this week.
“I was really grateful to hear this because we’ve had so many people that have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated,” he said.