NEW PORT RICHEY — At the end of the work day, Mike and Robin Napier don’t get to end their work day.
Mike Napier heads the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. His wife Robin heads the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County.
“I can tell you that Mike and I have lived and breathed COVID-19 since March,” Robin Napier told the Times. “We learn from each other. We bounce ideas off each other. I think it’s helped us survive.”
What they are sharing these days includes public questions and criticisms of their coronavirus vaccination rollout plans. They’ve also experienced the heart-felt gratitude of those who have so far been able to snag the potentially life-saving vaccine.
But they are also sharing in the frustration of not getting the vaccines they need to protect their communities fast enough.
By mid-day Monday, neither county had gotten word of any additional coronavirus vaccine arriving this week, so neither could open up appointments for the tens of thousands of county residents 65 and older who are a first priority.
To date, Pasco has received 4,900 vaccine doses. Hernando has gotten 2,800.
Mike Napier said he worked the phones over the weekend trying to find out when and how much vaccine would be coming next to Pasco. A call from his boss late Sunday evening told him so far, there was no information. On Monday, he said Pasco officials joined in making calls to try to get more vaccine into the county.
In Hernando, additional appointments were scheduled from the crush of previous calls for this week with remaining vaccine. High on the next list of recipients there the primarily Black residents of the south Brooksville area through one of the community churches.
When the Hernando Health Department gave 740 of its initial 2,000 vaccine doses to the gated Wellington at Seven Hills community, Robin Napier came under fire from both the head of the local NAACP chapter and other county citizens who didn’t understand the priority being there.
She said she didn’t choose the community because it was gated or because of who lived there. Rather, it was because the community had been set up years ago as a vaccine distribution point, in the event there was ever an emergency that required an organized effort to provide public health services.
“They were ready, willing and able,” she said, adding that the vaccine distribution there went well.
Receiving a call on a Friday that vaccines were coming and being told that they had to go out immediately “we had to figure out how to get that vaccine into arms as quickly as possible.”
In Pasco, Mike Napier also chose an established community as a vaccine distribution point, giving out 960 doses in Timber Greens. For him, the decision-making process was the same: Vaccine is coming, it must be used quickly, the distribution point was already set up with people who could help with logistics.
“When you get the vaccine, it’s meant to be used as quickly as possible. If you use it, you’ll get more vaccine,’' he said.
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“No one is more frustrated than we are here,” he said. ”We were anticipating additional vaccines, and we virtually have no vaccine left.” That meant he couldn’t set up more appointments and couldn’t start a new drive-up location on the county’s east side at Saint Leo University. Previously those getting appointments only went to the old Sears store at the Gulfview Square Mall in west Pasco.
He is eager to try out a new appointment system, which should help with taking calls for appointments, helping those without computer access or knowledge to call into a well-staffed call center and organize the second vaccinations that residents receive to complete their inoculation process several weeks after the first shot.
Hernando County health officials are also going with a new appointment system after their system collapsed under the many calls. Robin Napier also said that they are working with the libraries in hopes of providing assistance to connect on-line for appointments with seniors that don’t have access to technology.
Representatives from Hernando County Fire and Rescue, who are helping give vaccines in Hernando, also visited the Gulfview Square Mall site in Pasco to prepare for Hernando to start drive-up sites in the future.
Mike Napier said that he hopes to expand use of more vaccine distribution points in Pasco as more vaccines become available. Approximately 60 percent of his community could be covered under that system.
But the lack of more vaccines to distribute to an anxious population, he said, is the biggest frustration.
“I’m crazy disappointed that we don’t have any vaccine right now,” he said. “I think we’ve developed a pretty good mouse trap, but we don’t have any cheese to put in it.”
Times staff writer Bailey LeFever contributed to this report.
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