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Some Who Don't Meet Florida Criteria Get COVID-19 Vaccines At Baptist South Florida

People wait in a line for vaccinations at Baptist Health of Miami on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.
Daniel Rivero
People wait in a line for vaccinations at Baptist Health of Miami on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

WLRN has confirmed that members of the general public have received vaccinations at Baptist Hospital of Miami, some of whom are under 65 years of age.

As seniors across the country struggle to get access to the COVID-19 vaccinations, rumors have swirled about how personal connections can help someone win the vaccine jackpot to get a vaccine. And now WLRN can confirm that some of these rumors are in fact true.

WLRN has confirmed that members of the general public have received vaccinations at Baptist Hospital of Miami, some of whom are under 65 years of age and with no extreme health conditions that meet state criteria.

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One member of the public, who is under 65 and asked to remain anonymous, received the vaccine at Baptist Health in Kendall and cited a family connection to Baptist staff.

Baptist Health South Florida is the region's largest hospital system, with 11 hospitals and 25 urgent care centers. It has not publicized the availability of any vaccines for the general public.

But word of members of the general public getting vaccinated there has gotten around the grapevine.

“We have a friend whose son is a doctor who got the vaccine today,” said Gaylen Robbins, 76, a Kendall resident.

She and her husband showed up to Baptist Hospital of Miami in Kendall early Tuesday but were turned away.

“We thought being over 75 they would let us do it. Family members are getting it. That’s what they said. That if we had a relationship with Baptist we could have gotten it,” she said.

“That’s the way the world works,” she added as she walked back to her car.

Robbins expects that it could take months before she finds an appointment to get vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the majority of people in line waiting for vaccines appeared to have hospital identification badges. WLRN was asked to leave the premises by security after conducting one interview — with Robbins — at the site.

On the Baptist Health South Florida website, the hospital system lists specific criteria that it says it is using to give vaccinations. It cites an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis on December 23 that limits vaccinations to “long-term care facility residents and staff, healthcare personnel with direct patient contact, seniors age 65 and older, and other extremely vulnerable populations.”

In a statement to WLRN on Monday, Baptist Health of South Florida said that it had vaccinated “approximately 8,200 frontline workers."

The system also told WLRN that it is “working to provide the vaccine to eligible members of the community at large, and will communicate our plans very soon.”

The statement did not address questions about members of the general public getting vaccines without meeting state criteria.

The number of members of the general public that have received vaccines was not immediately provided by Baptist. We will update this story if more information becomes available.

In a press conference Tuesday, Baptist Health CEO Bo Boulenger said the hospital system is doing 1,800 vaccines a day and expects to have vaccinated 10,000 frontline workers by the end of the week, out of more than 18,000 employees who qualify for vaccines. He added that the system is starting to ramp up vaccinations to the public.

“Based upon the most recent directive from the governor to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as we can, we’ve begun to coordinate vaccines for other vulnerable patient populations," said Boulenger.

He said the hospital system will be reaching out directly to those patients.

Speaking in general terms, Allison Yager, the deputy executive director of Florida Health Justice Project, said adherence to criteria for vaccines is important to any vaccine distribution plan.

"Prioritization needs to take into account risk factors and the extent to which people in their daily lives are being exposed," said Yager.

But at the same time, Yager said that the state of Florida is sending conflicting signals to hospitals about prioritization.

In a press conference Monday, Gov. DeSantis said any hospital system that did not meet its vaccination goals would have their vaccine supply redistributed to other hospital systems that are meeting those goals.

“I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm,” said DeSantis.

"The state has given guidelines, but at the same time the state is telling hospitals that if they don’t use their vaccine up speedily then they won’t be receiving future vaccines," she said. "On the one hand is adhering to the priorities, and on the other hand, time is of the essence. The fact of the matter is that institutions have had so little time to plan for the rollout, and that puts them in a very tough position."

In other parts of Miami-Dade, the Jackson Health System has launched a website where people 65 and older can schedule appointments for vaccines. Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach has also been giving vaccines to seniors, and the Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County has also launched a website where seniors can make appointments.

The websites have been flooded with demand for the vaccine. Slots for vaccine appointments through the Jackson Health System's website were filled within minutes Tuesday morning.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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