Vulnerable patients wait their turn for COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 11:24 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 03:48:57-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Christina Parente is extra cautious during the pandemic. But like many others not yet 65 years old, but with underlying conditions, she is still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Life is the four walls of this house,” Parente said.

That’s because she says diabetes and a condition that’s left her with scar tissue in her lungs make her high risk. Years ago, she said pneumonia left her on a ventilator for months, underscoring the importance to her of getting a vaccine.

“I am deathly afraid of going back on a ventilator because it was a struggle it’s not a fun thing. It’s just to have that safety net. To know that even if I get sick it won’t cause a hospitalization or death or you know very sick so I just want that comfort,” Parente said.

She said she only moved to the area a year ago right before the pandemic, only able to secure a primary care physician.

Under the Governor’s emergency order designating who can get a vaccine, hospital providers are allowed to vaccinate those they deem extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said it and the Florida Department of Health have allocated more than 115,000 doses to hospitals for those extremely vulnerable.

This week, it’s allocated another 30,240 doses to 28 hospitals to vaccinate those under the emergency order.

“The state is working alongside hospitals statewide to ensure they have enough resources to vaccinate extremely vulnerable individuals,” the agency stated.

Some local hospital systems said they’re using CDC criteria to determine who’s extremely vulnerable.

Here’s where they stand right now:

AdventHealth’s West Florida Division said its currently vaccinating extremely vulnerable patients. That includes 19-year-old Sarah Sizemore, who has a rare genetic disorder.

“We really needed to receive medical care but it was so risky without a vaccine so this means a lot to us,” her sister and caregiver, Jessica Wilhelmi, said in an interview with the hospital.

She said the vaccine will allow Sarah to have brain surgery and continue with other necessary care.

The system said those who qualify will be notified directly, which may include solid organ and bone marrow transplant patients, cancer patients with active treatment, cystic fibrosis patients, patients with sickle cell disease and adults with Down syndrome.

BayCare said starting this week, it’s broadening its criteria for COVID-19 vaccination prioritization for those medically vulnerable 18-64 years old. It will include more conditions, like COPD, congestive heart failure and diabetes. The hospital system is contacting its eligible patients.

HCA Healthcare West Florida Division said it’s received a small allotment of doses at a couple hospitals and is following federal and state guidelines, and is using CDC guidance.

A spokesperson stated, “As the vaccines become more widely available, we will continue to work in partnership with the state and our community partners, including local health departments and pharmacies, to further provide the vaccines to the public.”

Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System said it received its first allocation of the Moderna vaccine for high-risk people under 65 with underlying medical conditions.

It distributed them on Monday, reaching out directly to patients in its database, outreach disease management programs and specialty clinics who have cancer, heart failure, stroke, COPD and diabetes.

“We do not have sufficient vaccine to schedule appointments or maintain a waiting list for patients referred by physicians and high-risk community members at this time. As more supplies become available, we will continue our efforts to expand vaccinations for healthcare workers and high-risk people in the community,” a spokesperson stated.

“We’re restricted in great part because of a lack of product. If we had an unlimited supply of vaccine all those who wanted to get it would get it,” said Jay Wolfson, Ph.D., a senior associate dean at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine.

“The message is we’re getting better at this. We need to produce more which we are,” he said.

Meanwhile, Christina Parente waits for her turn.