Many patients under 65 with compromised immune systems still waiting for vaccine

Because of COVID-19, John Dennie is literally scared to death to go anywhere. 

"I’ve been out of the house a total of three times in a year. I just can’t afford to take a chance," Dennie told FOX 35 News. 

One of those three times was Tuesday. His wife, Jane, drove him to a hospital and a local church where COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, hoping he can get one. 

"It’s been extremely frustrating," he said.

John is 64 and a half years old. For the last 10 years, he’s been battling a rare neurological disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) that’s been gradually taking his independence. The day those 65 and older became eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an order saying hospitals also may vaccinate persons who they deem extremely vulnerable to the virus. 

"I know this would be fatal to me," Dennie said.  

He knows that personally and professionally. He spent his life working as an anesthesiologist. For the last 10 years of his career, he worked at AdventHealth Waterman until his illness forced him to retire early.  John’s wife, Jane, has spent the last several weeks calling hospitals and trying to sign up online to get him a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"She’s been great. She’s helped me with everything," Denne said, as he started getting emotional. 

"It’s my job. Very hard being his advocate and the person that loves him the most to make these phone calls. You're on with a person, finally get a person, after you go every which way. No matter how I communicate with that individual, they have no avenue for providing vaccines for these people with these horrific conditions," Jane said.

Not being able to leave the house is causing Dennie's condition to worsen. It’s not helping his mental health either. 

"I’m starting to go a little nuts. I know I’m not alone," he said. 

The Dennie's say something has to be done for those under 65 battling serious disease and conditions. 

"She’s been on the phone for days trying to find something," Dennie said about his wife.

Patients under 65 battling serious conditions with severely compromised immune systems treated at both Orlando Health and AdventHealth’s hospital systems tell FOX 35 News they’ve received the vaccine.  However, neither will say what conditions qualify in their hospital for the vaccine or how patients can register.

Melissa Miller, 41, got vaccinated Tuesday afternoon at AdventHealth. 

"I do feel like I’ve won the lottery," Miller said. "I didn’t know when I’d be able to get it. When I got the email from Advent, I immediately jumped on it. I feel like I got the golden ticket."   

She’s one of the few people with a severely compromised immune system, highly vulnerable to COVID-19, who’s been vaccinated. 

"I am a Stage 3 breast cancer survivor who’s been fighting for her life for two years, so silverlining I guess," Miller said.

When the pandemic first hit, Miller was a year into chemotherapy. Her doctor gave her strict orders to stay home. Leaving her house for chemo treatments made her very, very nervous. She had a few stays in the hospital alone. Not even her husband was allowed to visit. Since becoming eligible for the vaccine, she’s been begging her oncologist to get her a vaccine appointment. 

"I kept calling, kept calling his nurse trying to figure out a way to fast track," Miller said. 

That didn’t work. Then out of the blue last weekend, she says she got an email for Advent Health asking if she wanted the vaccine with a link to sign up. 

"I have some other friends that are cancer patients who didn’t get the email, so I don’t know if it was my staging or the amount of treatment I’ve gone through. I feel there was probably some sort of lotto system," Miller said. 

She feels blessed she was able to get her first vaccine Tuesday. 

"We’re one step closer to me not having to stay in the bubble as much. Obviously, I’ll still be safe and take precautions, but everybody can take a deep breath now," she said.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.