Gov. DeSantis issues order allowing COVID-19 vaccines for those with Down syndrome

Despite CDC findings, Down syndrome was not considered high-risk for severe illness by Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two weeks after News4Jax told of a push by parents lobbying to change rules to allow Florida health care facilities to vaccinate children with Down syndrome, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to allow it, according to the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville.

“We want to thank Gov. DeSantis for hearing our voices by signing this executive order that will save numerous lives,” the group’s posted on its Facebook page. “Thank you to our state and local elected officials who supported this initiative. Lastly, we would like to thank our local Jacksonville media teams who took an interest and supported this campaign. This simply could not have been done without you!”

The Down Syndrome Association believes the change was the result of its #AShotAtTheShot campaign and the publicity it received.

Families with a Down syndrome patient are urged to contact their primary car provider for a referral to a hospital to get scheduled to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

On Jan. 29, News4Jax told the story of Sydney Leach, a 19-year-old athlete at Mandarin High School living with Down syndrome.

Her father, Jeffery, says it’s crucial that she gets the COVID-19 vaccine. He’s the board president for the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that we’re not a little nervous,” Jeffery Leach said. “That vaccine is hugely important for us.”

Notably, researchers in the United Kingdom estimated that adults with Down syndrome are almost five times at the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 and that they’re 10 times the risk of dying from the virus. That’s compared to the general population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

But in Florida, people with Down syndrome are not considered high-risk for severe illness from the virus (full list of Florida’s high-risk populations below). Currently, the vaccine is only available to health care workers, people 65 and older and people in long-term care facilities.

“We’re not a huge community, and we understand that. But we’re just as important as any other individual and every other family member. And it’s critically important that our community has that option to get the vaccine,” Jeffery Leach said.

To get the state’s attention, he said members of the Down syndrome community created a campaign called #AShotAtTheShot.

“What we’re asking the community, those with Down syndrome, those without, is to call the state legislatures, to call their governor and ask for Down syndrome to be put on that priority list so our community can go out and have the option to get that vaccine sooner than later,” Jeffrey Leach said. (Click the link above for more information.)

He says his daughter is a blessing and that getting the vaccine is key for her to keep playing sports and living a happy and healthy life.

According to Jeffery Leach, there are about 1,500 people in Jacksonville that are diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Those in high-risk populations can call a hospital and book a vaccine appointment, but some hospitals are waiting for more shipments of the vaccine.

RELATED: Florida launches vaccine pre-registration website

Baptist Health sent a news release Friday saying that at the time, the hospital did not have any first dose appointments available at the time. It was referring anyone on a wait list to the Regency Square Mall vaccination site. Once the hospital receives more doses, officials say they will meet the needs of the most medically vulnerable patients first.

UF Health on Friday said it wasn’t at the time taking new vaccine appointments. It said vaccines are only being distributed for second doses and for those who already booked a first dose appointment. Those needing a vaccine appointment are put on a wait list.

Mayo Clinic and St. Vincent’s both say they are vaccinating people as much as possible based on local, state and federal guidelines.

The following populations in the state are considered high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to

  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
  • Other high-risk conditions could include: - People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma. - People who have serious heart conditions. - People who are immunocompromised including cancer treatment. - People of any age with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease might also be at risk.
  • People who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness, however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk.

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