The campaign to vaccinate Floridians against COVID-19 moved to doctors’ offices this week, allowing patients to obtain the shots from their own medical providers rather than at pharmacies or mass vaccination sites.
The state arranged delivery this week of 85,000 doses to private medical practices, setting off thousands of phone calls to patients on waiting lists and increasing the reach of the state’s campaign to defeat the disease.
Vaccines went to a variety of providers, including large practices with multiple offices, kidney dialysis centers, medical offices that serve poor people, people with AIDS, the elderly and rural communities. Most Florida doctors still don’t have the shots, as supplies remain limited, but the number of practices receiving them is expected to increase in coming weeks now that President Biden has secured promises of increased production from the manufacturers.
“We have 10 medical centers that will be vaccinating people,” said Dr. Raul Daza, regional medical director for Sanitas, which received 9,600 doses and serves patients in South Florida, as well as the Tampa and Orlando areas. “We are advocates of the vaccine, and we know that this is the way to end this pandemic.”
The company will work down a waiting list of about 15,000 people who have pre-registered, as well as offering it to people coming in for office visits and patients at higher risk for serious disease with COVID. Like other providers, the company will offer it free and provide it only to those who qualify under state rules.
Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, did not respond to multiple requests for information on how these medical practices were selected to receive doses or any other details of the physician program. The health department has repeatedly withheld information from the news media on details of vaccine distribution, except when threatened with legal action.
The largest allotment, about 19,500 doses, went to Conviva Care Solutions, which operates more than 90 Florida offices that focus on senior care. Nearly 10,000 doses went to dialysis centers around the state operated by DaVita Kidney Care, whose patients face a higher risk of severe illness from COVID.
“We are vaccinating directly in our centers — eliminating the need to navigate online appointment systems, transportation challenges, and mass vaccination sites,” the company said in a written statement. “Keeping our community healthy is key to protecting at-risk dialysis patients, and these vaccines will help ensure that we continue to do that.”
Many medical practices have been preparing for months for the vaccines’ arrival. One chain of medical offices, Cano Health, said its 60 locations in Florida began getting ready in December, filling out government paperwork, buying refrigerators, training staff and urging health officials to send doses its way. By Friday, the Cano group will have given out about 15,000 doses.
CEO Marlow Hernandez said Cano’s patients are seniors, mostly Black and Hispanic, many of whom had not planned to be vaccinated at existing sites or pharmacies.
“Our patients trust their doctors. We have had an established relationship with them for years,” he said. ”High-risk, minority seniors want to speak to their doctors about the benefits and risks and have got a lot of questions.”
Chen Senior Medical Centers, a family-owned chain of clinics in 10 states serving Medicare-eligible seniors, had been seeking doses for its Florida clinics for weeks.
Many of Chen’s centers are in neighborhoods where patients can walk in and where primary care doctors are scarce, said Dr. Jason Lane, ChenMed National Medical Director of Clinical Strategy and Outcomes. By the end of the week, Lane said, Chen will have given out more than 11,000 doses in Florida.
“This is tremendous progress in under three weeks,” he said.
Dr. Gianni Neil, ChenMed market chief medical officer for Broward and Palm Beach counties, says while supply has varied over the last three weeks, demand has stayed strong. “Most of our appointments are already scheduled.”
Along with the private physician groups, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday at each of its 18 Florida clinics.
“Obviously we need a lot more,” said Michael Kahane, southern bureau chief for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Florida. “Most of our locations have a clientele of 2,000 to 4,000 patients.”
To get the doses out quickly, Kahane hired additional staff. Now, he has asked health officials to increase the foundation’s allotment next week.
“The state knows that we don’t have enough to vaccinate our current population and we want to provide our services to the general public,” he said. “To do that, they would have to give us more.”
Where to find the vaccines
Many private physician groups have received doses; listed below are just some of the bigger groups. Call your local office to learn more.
Chen Senior Medical Centers
Conviva Care Solutions
Diagnostic Clinical Medical Group
Family Physicians Group
Florida Health Care Plans
Millenium Physicians Group
PanCare of Florida
Sanitas Medical Centers