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Pinellas hires company to register patients ahead of two new COVID vaccine sites

Between two as yet unnamed sites and the Department of Health’s three sites, Pinellas hopes to distribute 10,000 to 12,000 doses next week.

Following the state’s bottlenecked coronavirus vaccine rollout this month that left thousands unable to register on crashed websites and phone lines, Pinellas County is developing another method to help manage the demand.

The county on Sunday signed a $3 million contract with CDR Health Care for an online management system that will register patients and operate a patient portal needed to track doses. With the new intake software, Pinellas government will announce the locations of two new vaccine sites later this week staffed by emergency medical services workers, County Administrator Barry Burton announced at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

Burton said the county will begin distributing its latest shipment next week of roughly 10,000 to 12,000 vaccine doses between the county’s two new locations and the three existing Department of Health vaccine locations. Vaccines will still be limited to those 65 and older, a restriction on initial general public distribution imposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis following access given to health care workers and long-term care residents.

With more than 200,000 Pinellas seniors eligible for the vaccine, demand is far outstripping supply. As of Tuesday, 29,078 doses had been administered in Pinellas, which includes distribution by the Department of Health, hospitals, pharmacies and community health centers.

“Those spots are going to fill up quickly,” Burton said of the new sites in a later interview. “I understand people’s concerns, and we are going to continue at it until we get through it all and we have the capability of going to three or four (new) sites. But that’s really limited by supply.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time officials were receiving information about the two new sites, which Burton said he did to avoid further confusion while a dry run of the new system is being conducted.

Governments in Hillsborough and Pasco counties also signed their own contracts with CDR Health, Burton said.

CDR Health is led by Tina Vidal-Duart, who has 12 years in the healthcare industry, most recently as chief executive officer of the state’s COVID-19 Infectious Disease Field Hospital System, “where she oversaw the management and deployment of the state’s field hospital system and its healthcare and administrative support personnel,” according to her company website.

The announcement came as case counts hit near the peak levels seen during the summer, with 586 cases over the last seven days, according to Dr. Ulyee Choe, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas. He said while hospital bed and intensive care unit availability remain at 19 percent and 17.7 percent respectively, concern is spreading about having the nursing staff needed to handle the caseloads.

“While just by looking at the bed count you do see some availability, the concern is if it’s not married with the staffing, those specialized nurses to staff those beds, it’s functionally zero unfortunately for a number of those hospitals,” Choe said.

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