For those not quite 65, wait for a shot not easy

As the coronavirus pandemic moves toward the one-year mark in Florida, I finally went to a local pharmacy last week and received the first of my two shots – for shingles.

That should tell you how much confidence I have in the clown show that has been Florida’s COVID-vaccination rollout, which began nearly two months ago with long lines, crashing websites, phone-system failures and conflicting information.

Yes, I’ve heard the oft-tweaked machinations have improved in recent weeks, but the rate of vaccinations continues to move at the speed of erosion.

So, being only 62, lacking a life-threatening illness and not working on the front lines of the healthcare industry – which makes me too young, too healthy and not properly employed to get a COVID-19 vaccination during the opening phases of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ wrongheaded plan – I figure I’ll have plenty of time to get my shingles booster in May, wait the recommended two to four weeks, and still not need to put off my first coronavirus shot.

Let’s be honest: Based on what we’ve seen thus far, there’s little reason to believe Florida will move to the next phase of its still-developing vaccination plan and begin inoculating healthy folks under age 65 before the start of summer.

At this point, in fact, no one seems to know what the next phase is, who will be included or how many phases are planned, since DeSantis already has gone rogue, ignoring the CDC’s recommendation to open with the 75-and-over age group and, instead, opting to allow all of Florida’s 4.5 million seniors to overwhelm an unproven vaccination system.

Will DeSantis learn from his mistake and restrict the next wave of vaccinations to people 55-and-over? Or will he simply open up COVID vaccinations to everyone, regardless of age, and turn the process into the public health version of “The Hunger Games”?

No one seems to know.

But someone should.

We should know what comes next and when – even if it’s nothing more than a best-guess forecast or worst-case scenario – so those of us waiting to get vaccinated can prepare ourselves.

We’re confronting a pandemic that, as of Sunday, had killed nearly 500,000 Americans, almost 30,000 Floridians and more than 250 of our Indian River County neighbors.

That scares folks, or at least causes them angst, and not only those in the 65-and-over crowd that infectious-diseases experts say are at the greatest risk of serious illness and even death.
Those of us who are in our 60s – but have not yet reached DeSantis’ magic number – are at risk, too, albeit to a lesser degree. The same goes for the 55-and-over age bracket.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wait until the 65-and-over group has been vaccinated. We’re not looking to jump the line. We just want more information than we’re getting.
Because we’re getting none.

I tried doing an Internet search using the words, “Florida COVID-19 vaccination under 65,” just to see what was out there.

There wasn’t much, other than a few vaccination-related news stories, the most interesting of which were about Walmart stores in Florida mistakenly booking appointments last week for people younger than 65 but deemed vulnerable to COVID-19.

The most tantalizing prospect was an AARP website story that addressed the question: “Who will be eligible to get vaccinated next?”

Unfortunately, the answer fell flat.

“It’s not yet clear,” the response began. “DeSantis said he hoped that, by February, most of Florida’s initial priority group – including older adults – would be immunized, and that vaccines would then be available to more people. But the state is still working through this first group.”

The story, by the way, was posted on Friday, which made it the most recent information available on the topic.

So, I called Miranda Hawker, the state Health Department’s Indian River County administrator, to see if she could provide any specifics about the next phase of the state’s vaccination plan, the parameters of which are detailed in the executive order DeSantis issued in December.

“I can’t speculate,” Hawker said, adding that she’ll continue to abide by DeSantis’ executive order until he amends it or issues a new one.

She said it’s difficult to predict when the next phase of vaccinations will begin because “we’re still vaccinating the 65-and-over group and others covered by the executive order. And as more and more people get vaccinated, we’re seeing more people who want to get vaccinated.

“Apparently, people who initially were reluctant to get vaccinated are seeing others get it, and they’re changing their minds,” she added. “So, we have to see what the demand is.”
As for who will be included in the next phase, Hawker said the governor will make that decision.

One thing she was sure about, though: People under 65 should not go to vaccine sites late in the day in hopes that they’ll be able to get the vaccine doses scheduled for others who didn’t show up for their appointments.

“If they show up, they’ll be turned away,” Hawker said. “We cannot vaccinate anyone under 65.”

Besides, she said, cancellations and no-shows have been rare – and when they do occur, those appointments and doses are being given to people signed up on the county’s wait list.

Still, the Health Department’s phones continue to ring, and the callers are often under 65 and want to know when they can get their shots.

“We do get a lot of calls, and we’re thankful people want to be vaccinated,” Hawker said. “We’re committed to vaccinating as many people as possible, as soon as possible, and vaccine is getting out into the community.

“We’re getting out as much vaccine as we’re getting in, and we will get to you,” she added. “Until then, continue to follow the protocols – mask up in public, practice social distancing, wash your hands.”

And, if you’re under 65, be patient.

More doses are being produced. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be approved soon, joining those from Pfizer and Moderna. The vaccination process seems to be getting smoother and more efficient.

By Labor Day, I figure, I’ll be fully vaccinated against shingles and COVID.
Just in time for my first flu shot.

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