Pinellas County nixes invites in its vaccine appointment system

Getting as many shots in arms as possible was the goal of a Feb. 27 COVID-19 vaccination event at the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater.

LARGO — Pinellas County residents that sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination through the county’s Department of Health no longer need to watch for a text or email for an invite to make an appointment.

Using a new simplified process, residents only have to register and then log back in to check to see if any appointments are available. And as of March 6, lots of appointments were available going through the next two weeks.

During a March 4 commission work session, County Administrator Barry Burton urged those eligible to register and get an appointment so vaccine doesn’t go unused. For the first time since vaccine became available in December, DOH had enough to schedule appointments two weeks into the future.

County staff is still trying to find ways to help those who need assistance to register and those who need help with transportation. Burton said local libraries have agreed to help educate and community navigators would be going out to assist. The county also is promoting a “help your neighbor” campaign to try to get technical help for those in need.

Burton said the county DOH sites are limited in capacity to administer shots, having a 20,000 shot a week capacity for first or second doses.

“We need more pharmacies to come online,” he said.

But the biggest news of the day was no more invites. The appointment system will be available all the time when vaccine is available. Registration is open at all times and everyone who is eligible is urged to register.

Lourdes Benedict, assistant county administrator, said she is more confident about having an adequate supply of the vaccine. She said the county is expected to receive a shipment from Johnson & Johnson next week.

“I’m feeling very good about inventory,” she said, adding that more providers were needed to give the shots.

Burton said all distribution systems needed to be working.

“We need capacity to deliver as we get more supply,” Burton said.

And more people are eligible. Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the list March 1 to include K-12 school employees age 50 and older, sworn law enforcement officers age 50 and older and firefighters age 50 and older, in addition to long-term care facility residents and staff; persons age 65 and older; and health care personnel with direct patient contact — all of which had been eligible since the first vaccine was approved in mid-December.

All those eligible can sign up for an appointment at PatientPortalFL.com or call 844-770-8548. When logging back in, select “no entry code” and “Pinellas’ from the drop=-down menu. Then check back often for available appointments.

As of March 8, more than 172,000 had received at least one shot and more than 50% of the county’s senior population had received a vaccine.

Proof of eligibility will be needed when going to a vaccination site. For those ages 65 and older, a Florida drivers license will prove both age and residency. A state identification card also can be used.

For others, proof of eligibility could include the following:

• Organizational identification card.

• Medical license.

• Paystub showing employment.

• W-2 IRS form showing employer.

• An employment verification on official letterhead.

The public is reminded that local pharmacies including Publix, Walmart and Sam’s Club are offering vaccinations to those eligible. Each has its own system for making appointments. Visit https://www.publix.com/covid-vaccine, https://www.walmart.com/COVIDvaccine and/or https://www.samsclub.com/covid.

Hospitals also are giving out vaccinations, although they have very limited supplies. Hospitals and pharmacies are places that those deemed medically vulnerable at any age can get a vaccination. Medically vulnerable also can get a vaccination at a federal site located at the Tampa Greyhound Track, 755 E. Waters Ave., Tampa.

To prove eligibility, they will need a "Covid-19 Determination of Extreme Vulnerability" form signed by their doctor. The form is available at http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/covid19_report_archive/covid-physician-form/EO-21-47-Form.pdf.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced March 1 that residents age 60-64 can join the list of those eligible for a vaccination starting March 15. The governor plans to lower the age limit in five-year increments as demand decreases and supply levels of the vaccine increase.

The latest information about vaccine availability in Pinellas County can be found at https:// covid19.pinellascounty.org/vaccines.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.