‘Extremely vulnerable’ people can get COVID-19 shots at federal vaccination sites

Form signed by doctor is needed.

Form signed by doctor is needed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The top agency in Florida handling the coronavirus pandemic said Wednesday that people deemed “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 can get vaccinated at the four federal vaccination sites in the state.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, anyone considered “extremely vulnerable” needs their doctor to fill out and sign a form from the Florida Department of Health’s website confirming their health status.

The clarification comes after Gov. Ron Desantis on Friday signed an executive order that allows people deemed “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 to get shots at any vaccine clinic with a physician, advanced practice registered nurse or pharmacist on-site.

It opened the door for retail pharmacies like Publix and Walmart to make appointments for “extremely vulnerable” people too. Publix has already begun taking appointments for the newly eligible group, according to a spokesperson with the company.

But many are still confused about where to go, and some said they were turned away, even after bringing the proper paperwork.

Robert Pumphrey, 60, has five stents in his heart and part of his lung is missing. On Wednesday, his doctor signed the form from the state Department of Health confirming Pumphrey was “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19. But when Pumphrey showed up to be vaccinated at the federally-run site at Gateway Mall in Jacksonville, he was turned away.

“They told me they weren’t giving them because there wasn’t a physician here to give them,” he said.

Pumphrey said workers told him there will be a physician there Thursday. He planned to go back.

Carol Bagmon said she made an appointment for her 62-year-old mom, who has asthma, for Wednesday morning at the Middleburg Walmart. They came armed with a doctor’s note confirming her mother’s health condition but said they were told by staffers that they were not advised to vaccinate people under age 65 with underlying health conditions.

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A state Division of Emergency Management spokesperson told News4Jax that the new policy allowing “extremely vulnerable” people to receive shots at the federal sites was implemented late Wednesday morning.

“As of this afternoon, appropriate medical personnel have been deployed to the sites and are able to vaccinate these individuals,” the spokesperson said Wednesday.

In a tweet Wednesday, the agency said people who had forms signed by their doctors to get the COVID-19 vaccine were eligible to receive shots at the federal sites.

“Federal sites in Tampa, Miami, Orlando & Jacksonville CAN vaccinate individuals deemed extremely vulnerable by a physician,” the tweet read.

Unlike the federal site at Gateway Mall, state health officials said the state-run vaccination site at Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville will not be giving shots to people who are medically vulnerable under 65 years old because there is not a physician, APRN or pharmacist on-site.

Two doctors that News4Jax spoke with said they didn’t get that memo, and sent some of their patients to the wrong site.

Dr. Hannah Arn is a physician with Ascension St. Vincent’s in Riverside.

“There was no information for us as physicians or them as patients,” Arn said. “My dad is a vulnerable patient. He had his pulmonologist fill out his form. He had an appointment scheduled, went to Regency and they turned him away.”

Dr. Danielle Carter, who also works at St. Vincent’s, thought her medically vulnerable patients could get vaccinated at Regency.

“Unfortunately, I personally sent patients where I thought that they could go to the mass vaccination site today with a correct letter, and they were not able to get the vaccine because they did not have the correct personnel on site,” Carter said.

Publix, which is now administering COVID-19 vaccinations at all of its locations, said people who are medically vulnerable can already make appointments.

According to a Walmart spokesperson, the company is in “the process of updating our internal processes and the scheduling system to reflect new eligibility.”

About the Authors:

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