DeSantis order expands coronavirus vaccine options for high-risk people under 65

An executive order stamped late Friday appears to expand vaccination access for medically vulnerable populations.
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Winn Dixie pharmacy during the first day of vaccination rollout on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 in Apollo Beach.
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Winn Dixie pharmacy during the first day of vaccination rollout on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 in Apollo Beach. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 28, 2021|Updated March 1, 2021

People under age 65 who have prior conditions that put them at risk to the coronavirus could soon receive vaccines outside hospitals after a quiet executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis late Friday.

The order says that physicians, advance practice registered nurses and pharmacists can vaccinate a person deemed extremely vulnerable by their physician. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said he confirmed with emergency management director Jared Moskowitz that the new order means people under age 65, with certain medical conditions, can get vaccines at pharmacies. It was not immediately clear what conditions might apply or what locations would be participating.

Representatives from the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Publix did not immediately respond to emails and calls for comment on Sunday. DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice wrote in an email that details about the order are forthcoming.

Previously, people under 65 with high-risk medical conditions could get vaccinated though certain hospital systems, but the order came with no clear directive on who was eligible, leaving those decisions to individual providers. That led to confusion, and BayCare Health System CEO Tommy Inzina told the Tampa Bay Times in early February that the allocations “just barely scratche[d] the surface” of those in need.

“It means that things are getting better as it relates to increased supply, expanded access,” Guillermo Smith said Sunday. “It means we’re making tremendous process with vaccinating seniors to the point where the governor is beginning to expand eligibility to other groups.”

He said he was not sure why the executive order did not seem to authorize state or federal vaccination locations to give shots to younger, at-risk populations.

Though the order provided little information about how the process would work, Guillermo Smith said he thinks it could follow a model seen in other states, in which people seeking a vaccination have been asked to bring a doctor’s note.

“I would strongly recommend those who don’t already have them to get a doctors note as soon as possible so that they have the documentation they need to be able to obtain a vaccine,” he said.

At a Thursday press conference, DeSantis said the eligibility age for coronavirus vaccines would lower in March and that shots should be available more widely by April.

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