ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. - As Florida Governor Ron Desantis announced new senior vaccination pods in two Bay Area counties, he also gave some answers as the state expands access to the COVID-19 vaccine for a new priority group and those a physician deems as vulnerable.
The Florida Department of Health released a new form late Tuesday for doctors to fill out. The form is supposed to certify a determination of "extreme vulnerability," but it has already caused some confusion because it does not define what an "extreme vulnerability" is.
Just days before this executive order, the governor gave the green light for medically-vulnerable people to get the shot at pharmacies and doctor’s offices with no mention of any further eligibility requirements.
On Wednesday, he said whether a patient is considered to be vulnerable is up to the doctor.
"it's really the doctor's decision," DeSantis said during a press conference, adding that before this week's announcement, hospitals were administering vaccines to patients who were deemed vulnerable.
"The fact of the matter is, if we pick [conditions], we may leave things out," the governor explained. "i don’t think you’re going to see any funny business. I think it’s about trusting them."
FDOH said it would begin using the new doctor's form Wednesday but it's unclear whether people claiming extreme vulnerability who don't have the form will be turned away at vaccination sites.
Another concern was fraud, but the governor seemed dismissive at that anyone would do that. It unclear how or if the state health department will verify the signatures of the doctors and their license number before patients get the shot. It’s also unclear why the agency released the form to the public instead of just making it available for physicians.
However, DeSantis said if fraud occurs, it would be punishable by law.
"I don’t think the physicians will be engaged in that. It’s got to have the medical professional on there. I don’t think you’ll be able to get away from that," he said.
Another big question is whether Desantis will open vaccine eligibility to Florida teachers of all ages, but he didn't discuss it during Wednesday's press conference.
The question came as President Joe Biden this week emphasized the need to get kids back in school for in-person learning. He is challenging states to give every teacher at least one dose by the end of March.
Florida is now offering the vaccine to educators age 50 and older, but the president wants teachers of all ages getting the shot by the end of this month. Biden said starting next week, the federal government will provide doses through its pharmacy program, allowing teachers, staff, and childcare workers to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy in their area.
Meanwhile, DeSantis said Florida will receive 175,00 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and it could arrive by the end of the week.
He said will be working with community leaders to set up vaccine pods for teachers, firefighters and law enforcement within the new vaccine priority group. Those clinics will likely use the Johnson & Johnson option since a single dose is required.
"I think that’s really good for folks in the workforce," DeSantis said.