TALLAHASSEE — As Florida officials ramp up efforts to vaccinate millions of elderly and vulnerable residents for the novel coronavirus, there are proving to be some phone issues.
Across the state, residents hoping to schedule a vaccination have hit busy signals or glitchy recordings. Some residents have called their county departments of health dozens or hundreds of times to no avail. In essentially every county, the issue can partly be attributed to overwhelming demand in the face of little supply. For example, some 250,000 elderly residents live in Pinellas County, which got just 3,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines this week.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said local officials have to do more to handle the call volume.
“With the Department of Health, I’ve told them ‘Put more people on these phones. We need to help out with the phones,’” DeSantis said during a news conference held at a Publix supermarket in Ocala. “If you’re 85, you may not be totally fluent with the internet. And so providing other ways to do it I think is important.”
Earlier this week, Hillsborough County’s director of emergency management, Tim Dudley, said the county handled as many as 2,000 calls a minute from people trying to schedule vaccination appointments.
Even some residents who have been able to get through have been told they cannot schedule appointments until counties stock up on more vaccine doses.
“The whole thing is just a mess, frankly,” said Dorcey Rose, 74, of Palm Harbor. Her husband, Tom, 82, was told by a Pinellas County health department worker that he couldn’t schedule a vaccine appointment — even months in advance.
Giving people the option to schedule appointments via the internet has eased the demand, but only somewhat. Hillsborough and Pinellas each had their online appointment portals crash Monday.
And it’s not just counties facing a technical crunch. DeSantis has delegated much of the responsibility for vaccinating the public to state hospitals. In Miami-Dade County, Jackson Health Systems, the largest hospital in the area, got 80,000 hits on its vaccination scheduling website Tuesday morning. The hospital booked 12,000 appointments for this week, according to NBC6.
However, some Miami-Dade residents who showed up for appointments at a Jackson facility were told they could not be accommodated Tuesday, according to WPLG. Those people were told to come back Wednesday.
DeSantis said at the news conference the demand for the vaccine will become less overwhelming as time passes.
“With the initial announcement, and when you started to see this open for business, there was a natural crush that happened,” DeSantis said. “I think it will get a little bit easier to navigate.”
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