POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Lawmakers and advocates are pushing for more transparency from hospitals as they vaccinate people under the age of 65 considered “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19.
“A lot of people are still shut out not only because it’s a limited supply but because, frankly, hospitals have been a bit cagey about giving the public information about who’s eligible for a comorbidity younger than 65 and who is not,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D – District 49).
According to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, hospitals have the sole authority to vaccinate people in this at-risk group.
“If you have somebody that may not be quite that old, but has some conditions that really could be aggravated by COVID, hospitals are, of course, permitted to be able to do that and we trust their medical judgment on that,” DeSantis said Wednesday.
“While that might have been the intent of the executive order, that’s not really what’s happened,” said Rep. Smith.
After hearing from his constituents and other Floridians who said they were not getting vaccine appointments, Rep. Smith sent a letter to hospitals urging them to “quickly establish public criteria for how those ‘extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19 who are under the age of 65 can be eligible for vaccination through your network.”
He sent that letter Jan. 26.
After that, the Florida Department of Health allocated 28,500 doses to 27 hospitals, including Lakeland Regional Health, for people under 65 with comorbidities.
A drop in the bucket, Rep. Smith and others say, but a good start.
Lakeland Regional Health received 1,000 doses.
The hospital spokesperson declined 8 On Your Side’s request for an interview, citing the fact that all the appointments were full.
The appointments filled up before the public was made aware of the new, specially-allocated doses.
Lakeland Regional Health “identified individuals” who meet the CDC criteria for being medically vulnerable, the hospital president said in a statement.
It is unknown how the hospital identified those people.
“Ultimately, there is more demand than supply available, and we hope to receive more vaccines in the near future so that we can accommodate more individuals who qualify for the vaccine,” wrote Danielle Drumond, the president and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health in a statement.
“I’m not super confident that they have him flagged,” said Rebekah Miles, of Lakeland.
Miles has watched ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, take away her 38-year old husband Phillip’s ability to breathe.
“He breathes at 5% of what most people do. A lot of people think that’s a mistake when I say it, they’re like ‘Oh you mean 5% less.’ No, he breathes at only 5%,” she said.
For most of the day, Phillip Miles uses a ventilator to breathe. He hasn’t left his house much over the past year.
He tries to save up his energy to spend time with his 2-year old daughter.
“The fact that he is not being given access to the vaccine is frustrating because we don’t know how much longer he has left and we want him to be able to go and live a somewhat normal life,” she said.
Miles signed up both herself, due to her asthma, and her husband through the Health Dept. in Polk County’s online portal.
While her asthma is listed as a qualify health condition, ALS is not.
Miles registered her husband under the “immuno-compromised category,” another confusing step in a confusing process.
She has been in touch with her husband’s doctor and Lakeland Regional Health and has hit a wall.
She’s not alone.
“We’re urging the hospitals to be transparent about even the limited supply that they have received to vaccinate those younger than 65 with comorbidities so that the public understands,” said Rep. Smith.
In Polk County, residents can register for the vaccine by signing up over the phone at 863-298-7500 or online at https://register.polk.health.
Polk County opted out of the statewide registration system.