With a one-page form, doctors can approve vaccines for people ‘extremely vulnerable to COVID-19’

A tray of COVID-19 vaccine vials. Credit: Getty Images.

In an expansion of who gets to be vaccinated in Florida, the DeSantis administration will allow doctors, using a brief one-page form, to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for people below age 65 without having to specify any medical conditions.

“The department has published a form for physicians to certify that they have determined an individual to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 & eligible to receive the vaccine,” according to a tweet from the Florida Department of Health.

This form will be used across Florida, beginning Wednesday.

Titled “COVID-19 Determination of Extreme Vulnerability,” the form doesn’t say what extreme vulnerability means, what kind of condition would warrant getting ahead of the vaccine line, and why there wouldn’t be more documentation.

State Sen. Janet Cruz, a Democrat from Hillsborough County and a member of the Health Policy Committee, posited one explanation during an interview with the Phoenix: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which protects the privacy of patient records.

“Maybe someone has AIDS and doesn’t want the world to know that. It probably should be vague,” Cruz, who has a professional background as a health insurance executive and is married to a nephrologist, said of the form.

“You’re handing that paper to someone when you walk in [to a vaccination site] who could be a volunteer. Its none of their business what your disease is,” she said.

The expansion comes at a time when Floridians are still struggling to get vaccinated, because the supply of vaccines hasn’t kept up with demand.

Now there will be another way to get vaccinated, if a doctor fills out the form.

A few short paragraphs in the form states: “I hereby certify that I have a physician-patient relationship with the patient named above and that I have determined that the patient is extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 for the purposes of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in the state of Florida.”

“I attest that I am the physician listed above and the statements in this determination are true and complete.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Zephyrhills on March 3 to open a COVID vaccination site. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order this week to provide the mechanism — at the bottom of the order, following the list of people who can be vaccinated, such as people age 65 and older and K-12 school employees age 50 or older.

The order states, in part:

“In addition to hospital providers, physicians licensed under chapters 458 and 459, Florida Statutes, may also vaccinate persons whom they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. Advanced practice registered nurses under chapter 464, Florida Statutes, and pharmacists licensed under chapter 465, Florida Statutes, may vaccinate persons determined by a physician to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. Such physician determinations shall include a statement that the patient meets the defined eligibility criteria established by a form prescribed by the Florida Department of Health.”

DeSantis said during a news conference in Zephyrhills that the administration specifically intended to leave it to doctors’ professional judgment which conditions would qualify.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed 12 conditions linked to serious complications from the coronavirus, including cancer, Down Syndrome, severe obesity, sickle cell disease, and pregnancy. It has listed another 11 that might contribute to complications, including high blood pressure and asthma.

The list “is not exhaustive and only includes conditions with sufficient evidence to draw conclusions; it is a living document that may be updated at any time, subject to potentially rapid change as the science evolves,” the agency said.

“We’re really putting that in the hands of the medical doctors rather than us arbitrarily picking and choosing. The fact of the matter is, if we pick certain things, we may leave some out. We think trusting our doctors is the way to go,” the governor said.

“I think most of the physicians, they have to sign their names to this. They obviously want this to be something that is legitimate, so I don’t think you’re going to see any funny business with it. But I think it’s more about trusting them. They’ve seen how this virus has impacted different folks. They can take a look and they can make that determination based on those underlying conditions.”

Although he doesn’t expect widespread fraud, the state’s overseers of the medical profession can deal with any that arises. “They don’t want their medical license at stake,” DeSantis said.

Cruz agreed.

“The onus is going to fall back on the physician to make sure that they’re signing their name to something that is indeed true,” she said.

The imminent arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may mean individual doctors could soon giving shots within their practices anyway, he added, especially once the doses arrive in serious numbers. The feds have signaled they’ll send 175,000 doses perhaps by the end of the week, DeSantis said.

“This [the J&J vaccine] should just be in every doctor’s office. This way, they’re able to go and work with their patients. If physicians are somehow not following directives now, well, that would not be someone we’d have confidence in. We obviously want folks to just follow the rules and do it right. I think they are going to do it right. I think will be good.”

DeSantis was in Zephyrhills with Senate President Wilton Simpson to open a vaccination site that he said will provide 3,300 shots over three days to seniors who registered through a waiting list maintained by CDR Maguire, an engineering firm that provides emergency management and disaster health services.

It was a week to the day since DeSantis traveled to Simpson’ home turf to open a vaccination site. Last week, the site was in Hernando County. Simpson represents Hernando, Citrus and part of Pasco County.

Zephyrhills is outside Simpson’s legislative district, but within his home county of Pasco.

Also this week, DeSantis said that the J&J vaccine, which is easier to store and requires a single dose, against two for the Pfizer and Moderna versions, would allow vaccination of police, firefighters, and school personnel aged 50 and above.

On Wednesday, he said he was open to including day care workers among that number.

Floridians “extremely vulnerable to COVID-19” can get vaccines if approved by a doctor using a one-page form