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Pinellas vaccine vendor to contact patients registered for vaccine

The new protocol will replace the first-come first-served system, where patients competed to book an appointment and were often met with a frozen website, error messages and wasted hours trying to get through.
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are pictured on a table as nurses prepared to vaccinate residents and staff at Gulf Shore Care Center, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Pinellas Park.
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are pictured on a table as nurses prepared to vaccinate residents and staff at Gulf Shore Care Center, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Pinellas Park. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Feb. 5, 2021

There will be no more mad dashes to score an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine through Pinellas County’s online portal.

Beginning with the next shipment of vaccine from the state of first doses for residents 65 and older, Pinellas County’s contracted vendor, CDR Maguire, will contact pre-registered patients to schedule an appointment.

The new arrangement will replace the first-come first-served protocol that’s been in place since the county launched the CDR online portal and call center last month. In that system, users had to log on the website or call on a specific date and time in order to book an appointment for a limited number of doses received that week.

Patients who did not receive appointments were met with a frozen website, error messages and wasted hours trying to get through.

“We understand people’s frustration on that,” county administrator Barry Burton said at a virtual press conference on Friday. “We’ve been working tirelessly with the vendor to fix it. A lot of people said ‘fire them.’ But where do I go and how long would it take to stand up a new system versus fix this?”

Pinellas County signed a $3 million contract on Jan. 10 with CDR Maguire, a Miami-based emergency management firm that set up an online portal and phone bank to make appointments and track doses the county is administering in partnership with the Florida Department of Health.

Burton did not provide a date of when the county expects to get another batch of vaccine for residents to receive first doses. He said next week’s shipment will go towards those patients in need of a second dose.

Officials urged residents to also seek the vaccine through other distributors, including pharmacies, community health centers and hospitals - noting all of those outlets have their own registration and protocols.

County Commission Chair Dave Eggers acknowledged the dysfunction but noted that all 28,000 doses the county has received in conjunction with the Department of Health in Pinellas to date have been successfully administered “in arms.”

“We have made some mistakes as far as rolling out the vaccine and actually having the signing up, the registration process and actually getting appointments,” county commission chair Dave Eggers said in the conference Friday. “Many of you have experienced anxiety because of that, frustration, anger, fear and for that I’m really sorry. We need to do better.”

Following more than a month of confusion over how to score an appointment for a vaccine, Florida last week unveiled a new statewide pre-registration system. But not all counties are participating in the system. Burton said he did not even know about the state’s new system until Friday.

Pinellas is operating its own sites to administer the vaccine that are run by county paramedics. Dr. Ulyee Choe, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas said officials hope to be able to offer more access points so transportation and other burdens are not a factor for residents.

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But a lack of supply remains an issue. The vaccine is still limited to people ages 65 and older, health care works and long-term care facility patients.

But with 250,000 seniors in Pinellas, Burton said the demand is overwhelming.

“The reality is 90 percent of the people coming into that are going to be unhappy because we don’t have the supply necessary,” Burton said. “But the people that are there should be able to see where their at, know whether they’re able to be able to get a vaccine or they have to come back at a later time.”

Patients can register for a vaccine through Pinellas County by going to www.patientportalfl.com or calling 844-770-8548. The vendor will call pre-registered patients when appointments are available.

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