After logistical challenges prevented the majority of the county’s seniors from registering for Covid-19 vaccine appointments this week, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County has announced it will team up with the Pinellas County government to make the sign-up process smoother.
“We completely understand the public frustration over our overwhelmed web and phone systems and are working around the clock to ensure we can provide a much better experience,” Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the county’s health department, said in a statement released late Tuesday, the same day the DOH announced it was suspending appointments because all allotted vaccine doses had been spoken for.
According to Pinellas County officials, a joint effort is now underway with the DOH to identify a reliable pre-registration platform that will simplify the process. Additionally, the Pinellas County government has submitted a plan for state approval that would open up four new vaccination sites for people 65 and older. The sites will be run by fire paramedics who have been trained to give vaccinations.
“The Florida Department of Health vaccination sites are only a small part of the vaccination rollout,” said Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton. “In a county of approximately 250,000 people who are 65 or older, a state distribution of 3,000 vaccines is only a start. While we’re waiting for the full rollout plan to come from the state, we’re ready to stand up our sites as a stopgap as soon as the state approves our plan and provides us the vaccines.”
The state’s rollout plans have been slowly coming into focus through a series of announcements from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Earlier this week, DeSantis said that the state’s emergency management division will work with the Florida Department of Health to convert state-run Covid testing sites into vaccine sites, and noted the state will be identifying places of worship where the vaccine can be given. He also said there are plans to activate existing contracts for 1,000 nurses to be deployed statewide to assist with vaccinations, and that vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities will remain a top priority.
Late Tuesday, DeSantis announced the state’s division of emergency management and department of health will partner with Publix Supermarkets to establish vaccination sites for people 65 and up. The grocery chain will receive 15,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine between 22 stores as part of a pilot program – three in Citrus County, 11 in Hernando County and eight in Marion County. If successful, DeSantis said his goal will be to expand the vaccination program to all 756 stores statewide. Appointments can be made online beginning Thursday with vaccinations starting Friday. Officials say Publix pharmacists will have the ability to give between 100 and 125 vaccines per day.
As of Wednesday morning, nearly 16,000 Pinellas County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Reservations at the DOH will be reopened once additional doses are received, although there has been no word on when that will be.