Jacksonville hospitals struggle to meet demand for vaccine

Hospitals say they’re unable to make a dent in vaccinating people under 65 with preexisting conditions

We get a lot of emails from people with pre-existing conditions – asking if there's any way they can get the coronavirus vaccine. Governor DeSantis has tasked hospitals with vaccinating them. But, Florida hospitals say they aren't receiving enough doses from the state to make a large dent in that vulnerable population. News4Jax reporter Kelly Wiley joins us LIVE.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While grocery stores and state-run coronavirus vaccine clinics focus on inoculating people over 65 and healthcare workers against COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis has tasked hospitals with vaccinating people with preexisting conditions.

But Florida hospitals say they’re not getting enough vaccine doses from the state to make a significant dent in that vulnerable population. According to data released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Health, 4,808 people under the age of 65 have died from COVID-19 complications and 33,836 have been hospitalized.

Nancy Tarchis told News4Jax her 55-year-old sister, who has asthma and is considered morbidly obese, is trying to reenter the workforce after being out of work for more than a year while she was in quarantine. But, as Tarchis said, her sister has been unable to get the vaccine.

“She has a letter from her doctor that she qualifies as high-risk patient,” Tarchis said. “But she can’t find the COVID shot.”

During a press conference in Jacksonville last week, DeSantis said under his executive order, hospitals and doctor’s offices are the only facilities tasked to administer vaccine doses to people 65 and younger who have preexisting conditions.

“They are really the place that does the co-morbidities,” the governor said. “It’s really under the physician’s supervision in the hospital to say, ‘Okay, you are somebody that has problems with your lungs. We need to vaccinate you because you are particularly vulnerable to COVID.’”

It was during that Feb. 9 appearance that DeSantis mentioned the state recently sent roughly 30,000 doses to hospitals across the state as part of the effort to vaccinate vulnerable groups. Since December, more than 200 hospitals throughout Florida have received shipments of the vaccine from the state.

Hospitals in Northeast Florida say as the state sends more vaccines to grocery stores, like Publix, and state-run vaccination clinics, which are only allowed to vaccinate those 65 and older and frontline workers, there are fewer supplies available to vaccinate patients with preexisting conditions.

UF Health Jacksonville received two shipments within a week of each other in mid-December when vaccines began in the state of Florida. Altogether, it received fewer than 20,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, including second doses. The hospital has not received an additional direct shipment from the state since then.

“The hospital systems here in Jacksonville have been very good at setting appointments, keeping our stock and our supply correct in order to ensure that people aren’t going without their second vaccine,” said Chad Neilsen, director of Infection Prevention and Control for UF Health. “So, what that means (is) we really just need a set amount that we’re going to get to move forward and be able to reach our patients and the population that they’ve asked us to.”

Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, executive vice president for Baptist Health, said her hospital is expecting 1,000 additional doses this week from the state. While Dr. Ransom said the hospital is grateful for any amount of the vaccine, she said they need more in order to vaccinate patients with two or more preexisting conditions.

“When we were initially looking...for patients over 65, we looked at our Baptist Primary Care numbers and it was, you know, over 40,000,” Ransom said. “And then when you add on those with chronic disease, it is over 100,000 altogether. So clearly, the number of patients far outweighs the number of vaccines we have. We want to be very intentional on how we approach that.”

Memorial Hospital and Orange Park Medical Center, which are owned by HCA Healthcare, have administered nearly 11,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is 86 percent of the health system’s supply, a spokesperson said. The remainder of the health system’s supply will go toward second doses that are set to happen soon. Because of that, the hospitals are not currently vaccinating any members of the public, let alone those with preexisting conditions.

A spokesperson for Ascension St. Vincent’s said the hospital has been able to vaccinate 17,000 people so far, including members of the public. Currently, the hospital is only vaccinating those due for a second dose.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.