Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County began registering persons ages 65 and older to receive the COVID-19 vaccination on Monday afternoon.
The next day, officials announced that the existing stock of vaccine was gone and registration for new appointments has closed.
The plan had been to register in advance of the start of vaccinations on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Supplies are limited. Registration is required.
To register, residents were instructed to visit pinellas.floridahealth.gov and follow the instructions. Those without internet access were asked to call 727-824-6900, option 4 for assistance. Residents were advised there could be an extended wait time.
Those instructions were valid —if you could follow through.
Complaints came in almost immediately to DOH’s Facebook page. Those commenting said DOH’s website had crashed shortly after noon and the phone line was inoperable.
One person that did get through posted that all the appointments were taken. Others complained that the form wasn’t working and they couldn’t register an appointment.
Those able to get through and register were encouraged to print and complete the consent form from the website and take it with them to a vaccination site. Paperwork will also be available on site.
Unfortunately, just before 7 p.m., it was announced on the DOH Pinellas’ website that registrations online and by phone had been suspended.
Officials said they were aware of the issues occurring.
“We understood there would be an enthusiastic response and we’re working to promptly resolve the issues,” said a statement on the website. “We are in the early phases of the vaccination program, and there will be more opportunities for vaccinations in the coming weeks and months. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”
Tuesday morning, DOH announced a “temporary registration method,” consisting of two phone numbers to be used until a “permanent solution is brought online.”
People aged 65 years or older can call 727-824-6900 and select Option 4 or 727-824-6931. An operator will ask for specific information including name, phone number and date of birth. The operator will then schedule a date, time and location for a first dose of vaccine.
Officials said people should expect long wait times. However, comments on DOH’s Facebook page indicated that callers again could not get in to schedule vaccinations.
People who were able to register online yesterday will have their appointments honored. Anyone who made an appointment through the fraudulent Eventbrite site does not have a valid reservation for a vaccination at the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. However, schedulers will work with those individuals to get them onto the schedule.
“Again, we apologize for the inconvenience that the initial rollout has caused,” DOH said.
Registrations will begin again when additional doses are received.
Plans called for vaccines to be administered at the Health Department offices. Those receiving vaccines will be asked to wait for 15 minutes after the shot to monitor for potential adverse effects.
Information about how to receive the second dose of the vaccine will be issued at the time of the vaccine.
Those registered to receive a vaccine must bring a form of identification with their birth date indicating that they are age 65 or older and agree to be in Pinellas County to receive their second dose of the vaccine in 21 days. Those who are unable may be excluded from receiving the vaccine.
The Department has identified the following locations where vaccines will be administered:
• Clearwater Health Center, 310 N. Myrtle Ave. in Clearwater.
• Mid-County Health Center, 8175 Ulmerton Road in Largo.
• St. Petersburg Health Center, 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. in St. Petersburg.
While the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines is an important first step toward curbing the virus, it's still important to take all necessary precautions to protect against its spread. Wear a mask, wash hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer, maintain social distance from others and stay home if you are feeling ill.
For information about DOH-Pinellas, go to www.PinellasHealth.com.
Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted his message of “seniors first” as he continues the state’s fight against COVID-19. At a Jan. 4 press conference at Orlando Health in Longwood, he talked about four new methods that will be used to increase the availability of vaccinations, especially for those ages 65 and older.
The first is to convert state-run COVID-19 testing sites into vaccination sites. The governor also plans to use places of worship and other locations in underserved communities to help administer the vaccine.
DeSantis has directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to hire 1,000 contract nurses to help with vaccinations throughout the state. Emergency Management also was charged with making sure the vaccine was administered at more than 3,000 assisted living facilities using CVS and Walgreens.
This is the fourth week since the state administered its first vaccine. As of Jan. 3, 260,655 first-doses had been administered.
Bayfront Health St. Petersburg also began scheduling appointments for front-line healthcare workers, including dental staff and emergency medical services, as well as residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities; staff’s family members age 65 and older; and staff that have not received a first dose of the vaccine.
To make an appointment, visit https://vaccine.orlandohealth.com.
Revised to add more phone numbers.