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Florida Gov. DeSantis expands COVID-19 vaccines to medically vulnerable

DeSantis also signed an executive order extending another 60 days his original declaration of a state of emergency last year.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — (Note: The video above was originally published on Feb. 23)

Doctors, pharmacies and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can now vaccinate people under 65 whose medical conditions make them extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

An executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and quietly posted to his official website late Friday expands a Dec. 23 executive order that only allowed vaccine access through hospitals for those under 65 with what are called comorbidities, or other illnesses such as cancer.

DeSantis also signed an executive order extending another 60 days his original declaration of a state of emergency last year.

The state continues to prioritize people 65 and older, frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. DeSantis said that with four new federal facilities opening this week in Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando, the state could see the beginning of vaccinations for police, firefighters and teachers 50 and older.

“We’ve been pushing for this!” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, tweeted Sunday afternoon about the expansion order. 

More:Teachers, firefighters, police next to get vaccinated in Florida, Gov. DeSantis says

State-run sites and county health department clinics are not immunizing people under 65 for now, Smith said, but all a medically vulnerable person under 65 should need to get vaccinated at a doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic is a note from a physician.

This means people under 65 with underlying conditions can get vaccinated at a Publix or Walmart, he said. But folks under 65 who want to get vaccinated at the newly opened clinic at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, for example, still won't be able to get the vaccine there.

Boost in supplies

When the state got a boost in vaccine supplies at the beginning of February, the state's Department of Health began shipping 28,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week to hospitals to give to people under 65 who were medically vulnerable.

Medically vulnerable are people with cancer, heart disease and other serious ailments that put them at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill, hospitalized or dying if infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Some hospitals around the state have been passing on the vaccine to affiliated doctor's offices to give to qualified patients.

Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare passed the doses for medically vulnerable to TMH Physician Partners, the community-based provider network associated with the hospital, for doctors there to determine which patients fit the definition.

As of Sunday, just over 3 million Floridians have been vaccinated, 76.3% of them 65 or older – or slightly more than half of the state’s 4.5 million senior population.

The state reported 1.9 million people infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began a year ago. It reported just over 79,000 hospitalized and 30,852 dead.

How the federal government defines 'medically vulnerable'

Adults with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

Severe illness is defined as hospitalization, admission to intensive care, intubation or mechanical ventilation, the CDC says.

Adults with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma. 
  • Serious heart conditions. 
  • Being immunocompromised, including by cancer treatments.
  • Severe obesity or underlying medical conditions including diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease.
  • Chronic kidney disease, Down Syndrome, Sickle Cell disease.

It also includes anyone classified as clinically extremely vulnerable based on clinical judgment and assessment by a physician.

Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at jschweers@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

Click here to read more from the Florida Times-Union.