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On the first day of registration, demand for Covid vaccine overwhelms phone lines, websites

Jaymi Butler

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Covid vaccine
Team members at Bayfront Health unpack a box of Covid-19 vaccines. File photo.

The good news – online and phone registration is now open for people age 65 and up who are seeking to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The not-so-good news – the amount of public interest quickly overwhelmed both the phone lines and the website at the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County Monday, sparking widespread frustration and mirroring a similar situation in Hillsborough County

There was even an attempt at fraud, which was called out by the department and met with irate comments from many residents expressing their outrage over constant error messages and dropped phone calls.

Late Monday afternoon, health department officials acknowledged the situation in a statement and on social media. 

“We are aware of the issues occurring with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County’s Covid-19 vaccine registration system and our phone network. We understood that there would be an enthusiastic response and we are working to promptly resolve the issues,” the statement read. “We are in the early phases of the vaccination program, and there will be more opportunities for vaccinations in the coming weeks and months. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”

For anyone lucky enough to get through, vaccinations are slated to begin in Pinellas County Tuesday. The department will be distributing about 400 vaccines a day, according to public information officer Tom Iovino. Due to limited availability, no vaccines will be given without registering for an appointment. While vaccines are not limited to Pinellas County residents, people who sign up to receive them must agree to be in Pinellas County to receive their second dose of the vaccine 21 days later. If they don’t, they may be excluded from getting the vaccine.

Appointments will be held at the following health department offices. 

  • Clearwater Health Center, 310 N. Myrtle Avenue in Clearwater
  • Mid-County Health Center, 8175 Ulmerton Road in Largo                              
  • St. Petersburg Health Center, 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. in St.Petersburg

People receiving the vaccine will be asked to wait 15 minutes after getting their shot to monitor for potential adverse effects. They’ll also get information about when to come back for their second dose. 

In other vaccine-related news, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that hospital systems that don’t meet their vaccination goals will have their supplies sent to other healthcare chains.

“I want to be very clear on one important point – hospitals that do not do a good job of getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job of getting the vaccine out,” he said, speaking at a press conference at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood. “We do not want vaccines to be idle at some hospital system.”

Orlando Health is the chain that runs Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg.

Monday morning, Orlando Health expanded its vaccination program to reach more members of the community. This includes all frontline healthcare professionals regardless of hospital affiliation, residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities who have been unable to get vaccinated, Orlando Health team members and medical staff family members and loved ones age 65 and older and team members who haven’t yet gotten their first dose of the vaccine. Appointments can be made by clicking here

Additionally, 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 continues to be a top priority.

In the meantime, Covid numbers continue to climb, with an additional 347 cases in Pinellas County Monday and 13 additional deaths due to Covid-19, bringing the cumulative county total since March to 47,207 cases and 1,079 deaths. The two-week percent positivity rate now stands at 9.58 percent after five consecutive days in the double digits. As of Monday afternoon, there were 383 people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 in Pinellas County’s acute-care hospitals, with 16.9 percent of adult ICU beds available. More than 14,900 people have been vaccinated against the virus countywide.

To register to receive the vaccine, visit http://pinellas.floridahealth.gov or call (727) 824-6900, option 4 for assistance. Please be advised there may be an extended wait time.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Priscilla Baker

    January 4, 2021at4:31 pm

    I have tried since Monday to register for a covid19 vaccine. It has been impossible be to enter web site or phone!
    I am 78 with Diabetes 2 and wish to get a vaccine asap. I live in St Petersburg.
    I have sent previous emails!

  2. Avatar

    Debra McMaster

    January 4, 2021at4:37 pm

    These problems were not anticipated??? The website remains unavailable, and now the number on the Pinellas site says it’s not a working number. Duh, it ISN’T working. Florida ps seniors are not being well served.

  3. Avatar

    lee

    January 4, 2021at5:33 pm

    why is there no update on the site itself? when will it be available? instead of frustrating users, who keep trying, tell us when to start trying again. should be easy to leave a message on the registration page, giving status of the system while asking for patience. if you have reached max capacity for doses, would be good to know! even non-critical systems do better than this! very poor communications.

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