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Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando stop taking vaccination reservations. Pasco website still up.

Both Pinellas and Hillsborough were taking appointments by phone earlier in the day.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one of two being have administered to residents in Tampa Bay.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one of two being have administered to residents in Tampa Bay. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 5
Updated Jan. 5

By about 2 p.m. Tuesday, callers who got through on the Hillsborough County coronavirus vaccine hotline were told that the local health department had run out of appointments for its available doses.

A couple of hours earlier, Pinellas County health officials had made a similar announcement, saying “we have scheduled for our existing stocks of vaccine.” The Department of Health in Pinellas posted on Twitter that new appointments would be available once it receives more doses.

Both counties were scheduling appointments for people 65 and older only by phone earlier on Tuesday, a day after their online registration portals crashed. Getting through by phone had proven a challenge, as well, with numbers constantly busy, calls abruptly ended or service out altogether.

Related: Vaccine ‘train wreck’ leaves Tampa Bay seniors scrambling for shots

Callers reported making dozens, even hundreds of tries in both counties, but to no avail.

Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Pat Gerard posted Tuesday on Facebook, asking residents to be patient. Pinellas County has nearly 250,000 residents who are 65 and older, she wrote, and the Department of Health in Pinellas County received a shipment Monday of 3,000 doses.

“The vast majority of seniors want the vaccine, and they want it right now, but the allocations we are getting from the state are totally inadequate,” she wrote. “If you can wait, please do.”

“What we’ve seen is unprecedented demand and interest for this vaccine, and that’s good to know that our citizens are ready for the vaccine,” said Tim Dudley, Hillsborough County’s director of emergency management. ”We’ve seen about 2,000 calls a minute trying to get through on those lines.

The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County expects to offer additional appointments next week, according to a press release late Tuesday.

The department will distribute 9,000 vaccine doses to residents 65 and older from Wednesday to Saturday of this week, according to the release, and residents should visit HCFLGov.net/vaccine for updates.

Due to problems with the website, the county’s phone bank stayed open an additional two hours on Monday and had planned to do the same Tuesday.

Hillsborough County officials said they expect a second shipment of vaccines to arrive this week from the state health department, but the number of doses is unknown. The COVID-19 vaccination requires two shots, Dudley said, and everyone who receives their first dose this week will leave with an appointment for their final vaccination.

”We just ask that everyone be patient,” Dudley said. “We want to make sure we leave no appointments on the table, and we’re going do everything we can to make sure we offer an opportunity for those who meet the criteria to get an appointment.”

Dudley said he didn’t know whether the county would continue to work with the website’s developer, Acuity Scheduling. Heavy volume caused the website to crash almost as soon as it went live on Monday.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 14.5 percent of the nearly 1.5 million people living in Hillsborough County are 65 or older. That age group accounts for about 25 percent of Pinellas County’s population and 22.6 percent of Pasco County’s population.

Hundreds of people are emailing the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County, and staff members were overwhelmed with calls on Tuesday, said Melissa Watts, spokeswoman for the department. Pasco continued to offer only online vaccine registration. Residents are frustrated with how quickly the online appointment slots go as large groups of people attempt to register at once, she said.

Many residents are calling in with questions about how to make appointments online, she said. Watts posted a page online Tuesday with answers to resident questions.

“We’re trying to find ways to help people to where they don’t have to wait so long,” Watts said.

In Hernando County, the phone lines remained busy Tuesday at the local health department with residents inquiring about appointments, said Ashley Thomas, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County. Appointments had been made by phone, but the department was at capacity for appointments on Tuesday.

The department began vaccinations at 8 a.m. Monday, as scheduled, she said. Residents may call 352-540-6800 or visit http://hernando.floridahealth.gov for more information.

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