After a frustrating first round, Pinellas County residents 65 and older will soon get another shot at registering for the Covid-19 vaccine, this time using a beefed-up reservation system.
According to Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County Director Dr. Ulyee Choe, about 10,000 doses of the vaccine will be available next week and will be distributed between the three existing DOH vaccine locations, plus two new locations that will be announced in the next few days.
The news comes a week after Pinellas county administrator Barry Burton announced a joint effort between the county and the DOH to not only add additional vaccine sites but to also improve the registration process. Earlier this week, the county signed a $3 million contract with CDR Health Care to operate an online and phone registration system that’s also being used in other Tampa Bay counties. To prevent crashes, the new system requires people to sign up for vaccination appointments in designated two-hour time slots based on their age.
But even with a better reservation system and more distribution sites, Burton noted that there’s still a long way to go to get vaccines in the arms of the county’s 250,000 seniors.
“People are going to have to be patient,” he said. “This is going to take months, not days.”
More than 29,000 people have already received at least the first dose of the vaccine in Pinellas, primarily through hospitals, health centers and at long-term care facilities which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, Choe said.
Of that number, the DOH vaccinated 1,500 people last week who registered for the first round of vaccines available to seniors in the general public. Through the state pilot program for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, 8,800 have been vaccinated.
At a virtual meeting earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor expressed her frustration with the way vaccines have been rolled out statewide.
“There’s no secret this has been entirely too chaotic,” she said. “I’m very disappointed there hasn’t been a transparent vaccination plan for Florida.”
However, she’s hopeful that once President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn in Jan. 20, things will improve and the state will get more federal support.
“This is an unprecedented effort and we can’t let mistakes of the past on transparency delay us,” she said. “We have to pull together and get this done.”
Meanwhile, Covid numbers continue to climb locally. Daily case counts are now averaging around 586, close to the peak numbers from last summer. Additionally, the county’s two-week positivity rate continues to hover above 10 percent. While hospitals have been able to handle the demand so far, health officials say bed and staff capacity may be strained this month.
To access information on vaccine availability, visit the Pinellas County government site or the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County site.