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Florida Cancer Patients Await COVID-19 Vaccine

Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a long, arduous process that is far from over. For Florida cancer patients, the wait for the vaccine continues.

People with underlying medical conditions, including cancer, are especially susceptible to severe symptoms from COVID-19. Because of this, it is crucial that they be vaccinated.

In mid-January, South Florida’s Baptist Health and Mount Sinai Medical Center canceled thousands of first-dose appointments. Both facilities canceled the appointments due to uncertainty of when they will receive more doses.

Vaccine distribution was the root cause of the cancelations and confusion. Facilities across Florida do not have enough vaccines to meet the overwhelming demand. Additionally, facilities are unaware of when they will receive more doses and how much.

As of Feb. 1, Florida has distributed 3,396,350 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Dec. 23, Governor Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., signed Executive Order 20-315, which outlined who is authorized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the order, those permitted to receive the vaccine are long-term care facility residents and staff, adults 65 years and older, health care personnel with direct patient contact, and persons whom hospital staff deems extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.

While vulnerable populations are included in the order, health care personnel and adults over 65 are prioritized at nearly all vaccine facilities in Florida. Long lines and difficulties in making appointments have been reported across the state.

“Across the entire UF Health system, which includes Gainesville, Jacksonville and central Florida, we have vaccinated more than 28,000 people and provided more than 37,700 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines combined,” a spokesperson from UF Health told the Florida Political Review.

UF Health started vaccinating their health care workers when they first received the vaccine in mid-December. Vaccinations have since expanded to UF faculty and staff who are 65 years and older and their Alachua County patients who are 65 years and older.

Some organizations are preparing to start accepting appointments for people with chronic conditions. The Cleveland Clinic lists Florida residents with cancer as well as several other high-risk medical conditions as eligible for vaccine appointments.

The caveat is that appointment scheduling will only be offered once vaccine supply is available.

The DeSantis administration announced that Florida will receive 307,000 first doses of the vaccine from the federal government the week of Feb. 1. While this is an increase from the previous week, it is still not enough to cover Florida’s population of adults 65 years and older.

Health professionals are eager to vaccinate those who currently have or have had cancer. However, the lack of available vaccines impedes their efforts.

Since COVID-19 is a relatively new virus, there is a lack of research on the vaccine’s effectiveness for people with weakened immune systems. Still, it is widely recommended that cancer patients be offered the vaccine sooner rather than later.

“Some protection is better than no protection,” said Dr. Merry J. Markham, acting chief of the Division of Hematology & Oncology at UF Health, to the Florida Political Review.  

Markham also noted that getting the vaccine to cancer patients is a logistical struggle. In addition to consulting their doctor, “most people with cancer should presume automatically that they should get vaccinated,” she said. “The issue is more of timing and where to get it.”  

Currently, there is not enough vaccine supply to vaccinate everyone. Markham recommends her patients follow local news and their county’s health department for the most up to date information. 

Florida’s vaccine distribution has been praised by some and scrutinized by others.

“All we need is more vaccine. Just get us more vaccine,” said DeSantis on Jan. 19.

On Jan. 26, DeSantis reiterated the need for more vaccines.

“My administration will continue working hard to swiftly distribute the vaccine to Florida’s seniors while requesting the federal government increase our supply as quickly as possible,” he said.

Florida is among the top 20 states for percent of people given at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a recent partnership with the DeSantis administration, Publix is starting to accept vaccine appointments for adults 65 years and older. The idea is to make vaccines more accessible to seniors in the community.

Still, there’s little word on when vaccines will be available to cancer patients. Offering vaccines at Publix provides hope that cancer patients will be next in line for the vaccine as soon as more doses become available.

Featured image: A vial of the COVID-19 vaccine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Unmodified photo by U.S. Secretary of Defense used under a Creative Commons license. (http://bit.ly/2YSb1cy)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.      

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