The images from Lee County have already become a national spectacle: Florida seniors swaddled in blankets, camp in queues overnight outside of testing sites for the chance to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
After spending most of the year in pandemic purgatory, many Floridians are eager to get vaccinated. But the state of Florida has not established a clear distribution plan, leaving it to each county to determine how to deploy the doses.
The vaccine is already available to some healthcare workers, especially those in large hospitals, and first responders. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Floridians over 65 are the next priority. But many have expressed confusion about how and when to get vaccinated.
The Tampa Bay Weather asked Floridians to share their experiences this week and many expressed confusion and frustration. Their responses, edited for length and clarity, offer insight into the questions still swirling around the state.
Not enough appointments or information on how to book one
We saw on our phones that you could call the Broward County Health Department for an appointment. We called our daughter, my son-in-law, my husband and myself. My husband finally made it and that was right after the cut. Within hours they were completely full. We have been isolated, we have done our due diligence. So now the vaccine is coming out, but it looks like you have to win the lottery. Before, we had to call radio stations to win prizes. That’s what we felt today. And we didn’t win! — Christy McLellan, Boynton Beach, told to Gabrielle Calise
“It’s absolute chaos in Sarasota County. I spoke to the Department of Health Care this morning and they said their limited supply would be given to their front line health care workers (makes sense). I should call back in several weeks when they get a larger supply. Less than five hours later, the health department announced that it was starting vaccinations for health care workers and people over the age of 65 today, but all appointments had already been booked. They gave the process for the documents needed to get a vaccine as new supplies arrive and noted that an appointment was needed, but did not share any information on how to get an appointment. What the hell? Can anyone step forward to bring clarity, organization, and fairness to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination? Accessing a life-saving vaccine (to save your own life and that of others) should not be a game of cat and mouse. This is what economically poor people have endured for years in our underfunded public health systems. It’s more dysfunctional and damaging than ever with the constraints imposed by COVID – let alone politics. — Christine Maxwell, Sarasota
“300 doses available and 1,000 people online to get it. First come first served, no appointment. Nothing but a clusterf-k. —Rick Feeney, Cape Coral
“I live in downtown St. Pete and have been very proactive in trying to get an appointment for the vaccine. Apparently, there is no plan in place to distribute the vaccine to those 65 and older; despite the governor’s executive order a week ago. I called the health department, CVS, hospitals and my GP; no one had any details. I’ve seen appointments booked within minutes in other counties. All I want to do is get a place in the queue; I too have health problems and like many I live alone and I am isolated. After hours on line, I managed to get an appointment at 2:30. Frustration and worry best describe how I feel. I would much rather get vaccinated in Pinellas County. — Bonnie Hechtkopf, St. Petersburg
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Many healthcare workers are still unvaccinated
“I am a frontline health care provider working in a large private practice not affiliated with a hospital. I represent a huge population of physicians, ARNPs, PAs, and ancillary providers who have been overlooked. We are not even included in essential workers. I contacted the Pinellas County Health Department and was told to follow the media for my age group. I have written to Marco Rubio, Governor DeSantis and Charlie Christ to no avail. I desperately want the vaccine because I’m 60 and see 30-40 unmasked patients a day. — Lou Ann Heckman, ARNP, St. Petersburg
“I called [The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough] and said “I’m a doctor in private practice, when can I get the COVID vaccine?” I didn’t get a clear answer, I was told that nowhere in Hillsborough had a vaccine other than Tampa General Hospital; Long-term care and high-risk/high-contact healthcare workers are first, all over 65 are next. » —Tazia K. Stagg, MD, Tampa
“No information on when the vaccine might be available to dentists and hygienists, who are actively treating patients who may be infected and do not realize it, even if we are screening. Aerosols are created, and although we wear full and appropriate PPE, the vaccine would give additional security to avoid disease. I support frontline medical workers who are actively working with COVID patients getting the vaccine first. » —Steven Bloom, DDS
Others wonder when it will be their turn
“My 95-year-old mother-in-law lives with my wife and I in Indian Rocks Beach. She was living in one of the long-term care facilities that was devastated by COVID. Luckily she tested negative and we got her out of there. We have been her caregivers since April. Ironically, if she was still in a house, she would be vaccinated. We are not worried about ourselves, although we are in fact “helpers”. Can she get vaccinated? —Jim Arnold, Indian Rock Beach
“I am in a very high risk group – immunocompromised with idiopathic CD4 lymphocytopenia and bronchiectasis. Having both conditions puts me at the highest risk per CDC despite my age of 38, but until ‘Now all the vaccination centers say they don’t vaccinate until age 65. My wife and I tried calling, going down the list. Most of the places we find only vaccinate older people. It seems kind of a mess. I think it’s disappointing that there hasn’t been more structure and organization in the process. —Jeff Dawson, Hallandal Beach
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