TAMPA BAY, Fla — Pamela DeFina is 73-years old and feeling stressed because she still hasn’t received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“No, I haven’t been able to get it,” she told us from her Palm Beach Gardens condo.
DeFina has a severe allergy to penicillin that can result in anaphylaxis shock so retail pharmacies have advised she get the COVID shot at a hospital.
“They said we don’t really like to give it to people with that kind of reaction,” she said.
But DeFina said hospitals have told her they’re out of vaccines or are saving what they do have for younger people deemed ‘medically vulnerable’.
In an email, a spokesperson from the Florida Hospital Association confirmed hospitals are receiving a “very small number” of vaccines “intended for the medically vulnerable.”
“Medically vulnerable is a general term, it means different things to different specialists,” said Dr. David Dean, an urgent care doctor in Odessa on Florida’s west coast.
Dean’s urgent care center recently started offering the Moderna vaccine to those eligible under the state’s guidelines, including the medically vulnerable.
“There were a few people who came in with very minor conditions and said they just want the vaccine and we did refund them and did not sign their paperwork but that’s really a minority of people,” Dean said.
While the Centers for Disease Control andFlorida’s Department of Healthoffer some guidance on who qualifies for being high risk to illness from the COVID-19 virus, ultimately doctors have the final say.
In Florida, doctors must sign a special form validating a person is medically vulnerable before the person can receive a shot under the exemption.
Dr. Dean said there is gray area is making some decisions.
“There is some black and white. People with severe heart disease, people with severe diabetes and immune system issues but then there’s some borderline. What if someone has really mild asthma, what if someone has allergies but the allergies can be very severe at times? These are all questionable or subjective decisions a doctor would have to make,” Dean explained.It’s
It’s not known if or how many Floridians seeking the medically vulnerable exemption have been denied. The state doesn’t track this information, neither do doctors or hospitals. But Dean said he airs on the side of patients especially since priority is getting as many people as possible vaccinated. As for tracking, he said tracking rejections in medicine isn’t typical and with eligibility criteria changing so fast, tracking, in this case, would be pointless.
“I don’t know if that would be helpful. The local health departments, state and federal have so much data on this that they’re sifting through and struggling to deal with. Really, what will resolve this whole thing is just opening up the vaccinations to anyone who wants it at this point,” he said.
Pamela DeFina continues to search for a place to get her shot.
“I have to have it to protect myself,” the severe allergy sufferer said. She’s also beat cancer but can’t seem to beat the system to get a COVID-19 shot.
“I don’t understand why,” she said.
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