Florida allows people 'extremely vulnerable' to COVID-19 and under 65 to be vaccinated

Posted at 10:59 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 23:12:43-05

TAMPA, Fla.  — An Executive Order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis in December states some Floridians younger than 65 are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine if they suffer from multiple medical conditions.

Now, a Florida lawmaker is calling on hospital systems across the state to identify who exactly is eligible.

Hospital providers have the power to administer the vaccine to individuals with comorbidities and are considered extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"Cancer patients, transplant patients, adults living with Down syndrome," said Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. "They’re being left behind by what’s currently happening in our state."

In a letter sent to Florida hospital providers, Smith urges 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.”

“But that’s not happening in practice,” said Smith. “I think part of that is because the state has very poorly communicated and implemented the vaccine plan.”

In November 2019, a chance encounter landed Patrick Nielsen a life-saving gift.

“My wife had a decal on the back of her car that said my husband needs a kidney,” said Nielsen.

A man driving behind Nielsen’s wife saw the sign and followed her home, eventually going under the knife several months later to offer Nielsen his kidney.

That organ transplant coupled with open-heart surgery and diabetes all put Nielsen in the high-risk category for the coronavirus.

“It’s very deadly for us,” said Nielsen.

Like so many other individuals living with comorbidities, he’s waiting for more clarity from the state and local hospitals on when he will score a critical vaccination.

“Nobody knows what’s going to come next. And people like us that really need it, we’d like answers.”

ABC Action News checked in with several hospital systems in Tampa Bay.

A spokesperson for Tampa General Hospital said they are following guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control in identifying specific comorbidities.

Those include heart disease, chronic kidney disease, organ transplant, sickle cell disease, cancer, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and people who are immunocompromised.

Tampa General Hospital released the following statement:

"Tampa General Hospital immediately began vaccinating these community members at TGH vaccine clinics including Tampa General Hospital Family Care Center Healthpark, our clinic for underserved, under and un-insured community members. In addition to opening our own vaccine clinics, Tampa General has supported the local Department of Health for Hillsborough County’s vaccine rollout through delivery of 3,000 doses of vaccine to support vaccination centers serving county community members 65 and older and those with severe comorbidities that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19."