WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A group of Palm Beach County doctors and health care professionals are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to expand the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to underserved and vulnerable communities.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
The T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society and other local organizations hosted a virtual news conference Thursday to draw attention to their recent demand to equalize access to health care.
"The pandemic vulnerability index ranks Palm Beach County in the top third of counties in the country," said Dr. Kitonga Kiminyo, board member and COVID-19 Task Force Lead for T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society.
The state reported more than 2.5 million people have been vaccinated in Florida, but for those who identify as Hispanic, less than 10 percent have been vaccinated. For those who identify as Black, it is roughly 5 percent statewide.
Earlier this week, the T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society sent a letter to the governor's office requesting the expansion of vaccination sites to areas where Blacks and Hispanics are most affected by the pandemic.
The group is also asking the governor to expand the high-risk criteria to include those younger than 65 with comorbidities who live in pandemic hot zones.
TODAY: @TLJMedSociety hosts conference, calls on Gov. DeSantis to expand availability of COVID-19 vaccine to areas where Blacks and Hispanics are most affected— Linnie Supall WPTV (@LinnieSupall) February 18, 2021
“The pandemic vulnerability index ranks Palm Beach County in the top third of counties in the country,” -Dr. K. Kiminyo pic.twitter.com/ck8M0xyQoH
The letter also calls for the creation of equitable access to monoclonal antibody therapies.
"We have lost almost three years of life expectancy, and a great deal of that is related to COVID," said Lawrence Gordon of the Palm Beach County Caucus of Black Elected Officials.
T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society hosted the virtual news conference a day after DeSantis threatened to send shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine to "counties that want it."
The governor's controversial remarks were delivered Wednesday at a new COVID-19 vaccination site at Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota.
The pop-up site will administer 3,000 doses to patients, however, it's only open to residents living in two particular ZIP codes in Manatee County.
"If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it, and we're totally happy to do that," DeSantis said. "So anyone that is saying that, let us know. If you want us to send it to Sarasota next time, or Charlotte, or Pasco, or wherever, let us know. We're happy to do it."
Doctors also worry the vaccine age requirements are too restrictive, leaving out high-risk groups who work or live in vulnerable locations.
"We need help from the governor of the state of Florida to do all we can to get this vaccine out and move forward," Gordon said.
For nearly 75 years, TLJMS has improved access to health and wellness, access to medical care and academic and career opportunities for the community.
"Underserved communities need a designated weekly vaccination site," said Sue Jones of the Palm Beach County Black Nurses Association.
Click here for more information about TLJMS and its on-going community education efforts.
Below is the letter the society sent to the governor: