By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — After focusing almost exclusively since December on vaccinating seniors, Gov. Ron DeSantis has cleared the way for more people under age 65 to receive shots if they are “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19.
DeSantis issued an executive order late Friday afternoon that allows physicians to vaccinate people who are deemed “extremely vulnerable” to the disease. The executive order also will allow advanced practice registered nurses and pharmacists to provide shots to such people if physicians determine that the recipients are extremely vulnerable.
Under a Dec. 23 executive order, hospitals — but not the other types of health-care providers — were allowed to vaccinate people considered extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. But the primary focus of the December order was DeSantis’ push to vaccinate people age 65 or older.
DeSantis’ office did not issue an announcement about Friday’s change but posted the executive order on its website. The order said Florida is “leading the effort to distribute the vaccine to the elderly and vulnerable populations of the state.”
The order also kept in place approval to vaccinate seniors, long-term care facility residents and staff members and health-care workers who have direct patient contact.
Through Saturday, the state Department of Health reported that 3,017,661 people had been vaccinated in Florida. Of those, 1,680,230 had completed the two-dose series required with vaccines produced by the drug companies Pfizer and Moderna. The remaining 1,337,431 had received first doses.
DeSantis has barnstormed the state for weeks promoting vaccinations for seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Through the Saturday count, 2.29 million of the people who had been vaccinated in Florida were 65 or older, according to the Department of Health report.
The vulnerability of seniors to the disease has shown up in death numbers throughout the pandemic. The Department of Health reported Sunday that 30,852 Florida residents have died of COVID-19, with 25,761 age 65 or older. — an 83 percent rate that has remained largely unchanged for months.
Friday’s executive order, like the December order, did not define people who can be vaccinated because they are extremely vulnerable. It appears to leave that determination up to physicians.
While the numbers of new cases reported daily in Florida have slowed somewhat, the state reported Sunday that it has had 1.9 million cases since the pandemic started. That included an additional 5,539 cases reported Sunday.
DeSantis on Friday also issued an executive order that extended for 60 days a state of emergency because of the pandemic. The state of emergency was originally issued nearly a year ago, on March 9, as COVID-19 began hitting the state and was later extended.