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Some Brevard medical providers also struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines for staff

Some Brevard medical providers also struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines for staff

Dave BermanRick Neale - Florida Today

As Brevard's senior citizens once again struggled Monday to get an appointment for the latest batch of 1,500 COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the county, they are not alone in their frustration. Some front-line medical providers not affiliated with a local hospital system or nursing home also have a difficult time securing scarce novel coronavirus inoculations.

Among those is Dr. David Williams, owner and chief medical officer for MedFast Urgent Care Centers, which operates 12 urgent-care sites throughout Brevard County and one in Volusia County.

For some time, Williams was having zero luck securing COVID-19 vaccines for his staff of front-line workers — who, among other things, have administered 170,000 COVID-19 tests to local residents since the pandemic began.

Not only that, he said more than 20% of MedFast's front-line health care workers had contracted the virus, including himself, and he was considering closing some of his locations because of the staffing shortages created by the virus.

"Here is the problem," Williams said. "The state has no mechanism for transferring the vaccine to urgent-cares and primary-care offices. These people are outside the government or hospital system, and are unable to acquire the vaccine to vaccinate their staff." 

After weeks of cajoling and begging politicians as well as other government officials, Williams finally received a shipment of 300 vaccine doses Wednesday from the Florida Department of Health that he used for his front-line staff from Thursday to Saturday.

"The state needs to recognize that urgent-cares and primary-care doctors are front-line providers for the COVID-19 vaccine," Williams said. "There needs to be a better system."

Vaccines remain in short supply — as evidenced by how quickly online appointments for people ages 65 and older get filled. 

On Monday, for example, the 1,500 available appointments for COVID-19 vaccine through the Florida Department of Health-Brevard were filled in 11 minutes, with the Eventbrite appointment website diverting many to a "waiting room" mode after just three minutes. Those in the waiting room had to hope that those already in the process of making an appointment would change their minds, freeing up slots for those in the waiting room. 

The 1,500 people who received appointments on Monday will be vaccinated on Tuesday and Wednesday at a drive-through Department of Health site off Judge Fran Jamieson Way in Viera, where vaccines are administered by appointment only.

Last week, appointments for 2,800 vaccine doses were booked within 22 minutes.

Senior citizens seeking a vaccine from one of the 22 Publix supermarket pharmacies in Brevard that are administering the vaccine are experiencing similar frustration in getting an appointment through the Publix online appointment system.

"It all boils down to the supply-and-demand issue," Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said.

Anita Stremmel, assistant director of the Department of Health in Brevard, said her agency held an appointment-only vaccination session Monday for health care workers who are not associated with a hospital, and who are employed by home health agencies, hospice agencies, urgent-care clinics and some dental offices.

"We pulled contact information from the Agency for Health Care Administration’s Florida Health Finder for the home health agencies and hospice locations, and used our own internal list of urgent-care clinics," Stremmel said. "We then sent emails requesting a list of those who would be interested in an appointment. Dental offices reached out to us after hearing from others." 

In all, 531 health care workers received vaccines through the Department of Health on Monday, Stremmel said.

Stremmel said, at this time, the Department of Health does not have plans to hold another "closed point of distribution" vaccination session specifically for health care workers.