Amid statewide shortage, Baptist Health cancels scheduled first-dose COVID vaccines

Samantha J. Gross
·4 min read

Baptist Health announced Tuesday that due to restraints on the COVID-19 vaccine supply, all first-dose vaccinations booked for Jan. 20 and later are canceled. No new appointments will be taken.

Second-dose appointments are not affected, as required by the vaccine’s emergency use authorization.

“I could have blown the top of my head off with steam,” said Charlotte Reeve, 76, of Davie, who had her appointment canceled. “I’m also a fairly recent widow. To me, having to be locked up in my house alone is just devastating to me ... I feel like I just got cut off at the knees, again.

The cancellations come as top state health officials acknowledged that Florida is in a “supply-limited situation.”

According to the News Service of Florida, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told hospital officials Tuesday that he does not know when additional first doses of the Pfizer BioNtech or Moderna vaccines will be sent to the state or how many doses would be in a future shipment.

“At the present time, we are in pretty much a supply-limited situation,” Rivkees said on the conference call. “So, as more vaccine becomes available, we will be able to determine when we can send more vaccines out to hospitals for community vaccination.”

In a statement to the Miami Herald, a Baptist spokeswoman said because there is no promise of a stable supply, Baptist is encouraging patients to make new appointments elsewhere.

While the Trump administration announced last week that it would change the federal distribution formula to allocate vaccines to states based on the numbers of residents age 65 and older, the current allocations are based on the number of residents 18 and older.

Florida has the second-highest number of seniors in the nation, so a change in formula would mean a likely windfall of vaccine. But for now, the shortage remains a problem.

As of Friday, the federal government had distributed 31,161,075 vaccine doses nationwide and 2,069,175 in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state Department of Health reported Monday that Florida had provided 1,066,107 COVID-19 vaccinations.

Bad news came Tuesday afternoon

Thousands of seniors and people with underlying medical conditions seeking vaccines received an email with the news: “Unfortunately, your appointment to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Baptist Health has been canceled due to uncertainty of vaccine supply.”

“We understand that this news is disconcerting, and we share your concern,” the email to patients said. “We have worked tirelessly to begin vaccinating our community, but are unfortunately limited by vaccine ability.”

The email, which was provided to the Miami Herald by a reader whose appointment was canceled, included links to various county sites in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties for people to make alternative plans.

Baptist Health’s vaccine portal first went live Jan. 8, when it booked about 13,000 appointments, according to Baptist spokeswoman Georgi Pipkin. To date, more than 25,000 people have been vaccinated at Baptist Health.

In an email, Pipkin wrote that since the vaccine rollout began in mid-December, Baptist has received vaccine supply each week from the state to meet their demand. Pipkin said Baptist will re-evaluate their schedules based on supply, and will reach out to those affected individually.

Like many other hospitals and county health departments, Baptist has had to build its own infrastructure to vaccinate the community, but is limited by vaccine supply received from the state.

“At this time, we have not received an allocation of first dose vaccines for this week and beyond, and the timing of any subsequent deliveries remains unclear,” she wrote.

Baptist did not respond to questions about how many appointments were canceled.

Those under 65 left behind

Baptist Health’s vaccine program had been one of the only programs in South Florida accepting appointments for people under 65, if they had underlying health problems. DeSantis had allowed them to be included under his latest executive order.

The cancellations left people like Kathy Eckart, a 62-year-old cancer patient, without other options.

“When the Baptist site went up, we pulled over and signed up,” said Eckart, who was driving to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for a screening at the time. She made an appointment for Feb. 3.

“[The cancellation] is pretty disappointing,” said Eckart, of Boca Raton. “My plan for now is to keep sheltering in place.”

Elizabeth Gomez, 60, was also able to make appointment through Baptist due to her high blood pressure. Her appointment was supposed to be Wednesday at 10 a.m.

“It felt like the beginning of the end of this terrible situation,” Gomez said. “To have it given to you and taken away, I feel like it’s such a tease.”

New site plans on hold

The city of Doral and Baptist Health crafted plans late last week to open a new vaccine site at Legacy Park Wednesday, with 200 to 300 appointments per day.

Those plans are now on hold.

Herald staff writer Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.