Evelyn Aub is a spunky senior who doesn’t reveal her age to anyone. But she admits that she qualifies to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Florida, which means she’s at least 65 years young.
“I’m completely independent,” Aub said. “Happy as a lark.”
Aub says her home in Palm Beach County, Florida, is her safe haven. Her car is her freedom and the Covid-19 vaccine is hope. And while getting an appointment for the vaccine online seemed “impossible,” her son, using multiple devices, managed to secure her an appointment for the vaccine at a Publix supermarket near her home.
It’s an appointment she attended alone, driving her sedan with license plates that bear her name and call for protecting Florida’s reefs.
“Not nervous at all,” Aub said.
Aub is one of more than 1.2 million seniors 65 or over who have received one or both doses of the vaccine in Florida. And while the rollout of the shot has been bumpy, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been working to fulfill his promise to first protect seniors from the coronavirus.
So far, state data shows about 71% of people inoculated in the state are seniors.
Florida’s vaccine blind spot
But DeSantis’ promise has a blind spot, say some home health workers who take care of vulnerable seniors inside their homes. Home health workers have been fighting a losing battling with seniors and the state for the same vaccine slots on the same jammed websites and clogged phone lines.
“It’s terrible. It’s awful,” Stephaney Hyman-McDonald, a home health worker, told CNN. “It puts you in a tough position because you are younger, yes, but you work with someone who needs to be protected.”
Hyman-McDonald takes care of a senior battling cancer and says she had to compete with seniors in her community, including her mom, for a vaccine appointment. While she was lucky enough to score a slot for the first dose on Friday, the accomplishment generated conflicting feelings because she didn’t want to take a vaccine that could have gone to a senior.
“We hear about this issue every day and from all over Florida,” said Kyle Simon, director of governmental affairs and communications at Home Care Association of Florida, an industry trade group.
Simon says that, while on paper health care workers, which include home health care workers, are a priority group, in practice interpretations of the governor’s executive order on the Covid-19 vaccine, which was issued on December 23, have varied county by county and resulted in home health workers being turned away at vaccination sites.
The governor’s order prioritizes three groups, including long-term care facility residents and staff, persons 65 and older and health care personnel with direct patient contact. In fact, 97,500 doses of the first round of vaccines received by the state in December were sent to hospitals to be administered to health care workers.
“What some public health officials and medical experts seem to be forgetting is that, while it’s critical that patients 65 and up get the vaccine as soon as possible… giving home care workers access to the vaccines gives these vulnerable patients a layer of protection so that clinicians and caregivers are not coming into their homes and potentially infecting them,” Simon said.
Florida has about 80,000 home health workers, according to Simon, and only a “small fraction” of them have been vaccinated more than a month after DeSantis gave health care workers priority access to the vaccine.
Two vaccine problems: supply and distribution
DeSantis maintains that getting more people vaccinated requires getting more vaccines. And he’s been fighting the White House over the issue. During a briefing last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Florida had only administered half the vaccines it had received.
DeSantis fired back during a news conference. He claimed the doses on hand in his state were second doses. The current Covid-19 vaccines available to the public require two doses.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay says that her constituents were battling a vaccine supply problem. But they were also facing a distribution problem.
During a Palm Beach County Commissioner’s meeting last week, Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health for the county, announced that Publix would be the only supplier of the vaccine to the public.
And while DeSantis said last week that “90%” of seniors in Palm Beach County lived within a mile-and-a-half of a Publix, McKinlay told CNN the remaining 10% don’t have that convenience and they all live in her district, a rural area.
“I’m absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100% taken the ability to vaccinate the residents of Palm Beach County out of the public health officials and our medical officials and given that authority to a corporate entity,” McKinlay said during the commissioners’ meeting.
In other counties, like Miami-Dade and Broward, vaccines are distributed through hospitals and state-run sites.
Three days after McKinlay’s public comments, she took to Twitter to share that she had spoken to Florida’s director of the Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, and a portion of the vaccines designated for Palm Beach County would be diverted to rural areas of the county.
“Thank you,” McKinlay tweeted. “It’s a small step forward towards a much bigger challenge. But, I’ll take a small step in the right direction.”
State-wide vaccine registration system
On Friday, the Florida Department of Health launched a statewide preregistration system to schedule Covid-19 vaccine appointments for seniors and frontline health care workers.
Preregistration can be made through the state’s designated website or by phone through a county by county toll free number.
Simon says he hopes the new centralized system will streamline the process for home care workers, seniors and other priority populations.
“The county by county piecemeal approach clearly has not worked,” Simon said.
After taking the first dose of the vaccine, Evelyn Aub walked out of Publix, hopped in her car and drove home.
“It didn’t hurt,” Aub said. “No problem whatsoever.”
Aub says she will continue to wear a mask and social distance because she knows the vaccine, even after the second dose, is not foolproof.
As for why she keeps her age a secret, even from her closest friends, Aub said that when people learn how old she is they worry and say “be careful,” and “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.”
Aub insists she not be treated like a fragile senior, “If they don’t know how old I am, they treat me like themselves.”