HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Nine thousand appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine filled up during Hillsborough County’s second round of appointment sign-ups Tuesday. But some expressed frustration yet again with the process.
“Right from the start it was a real booger to try to get into it,” said Robert King.
It’s the second time King has tried to secure an appointment, and the second time he said he couldn’t get through on the phone or successfully through the online system. He made sure to register ahead of time, and spent hours Tuesday trying to get through the system.
“It just elevated me to a new level of frustration,” he said, calling the process a catch 22.
ABC Action News heard similar experiences from others during the sign-ups.
A 90-year-old man said he spent six hours on the phone. Another woman said she received the same message six different times.
“I think we’ve definitely acknowledged it wasn’t perfect right. It wasn’t the high caliber customer service that we want to serve and provide to our residents. But comparing it to last week there were definitely improvements and so in some ways, we took great strides over last week,” said Iñaki Rezola, the operations section chief for office of emergency management for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, explaining he thought it was more equitable in how people registered.
This time around, the county used a new vendor and broke the sign-ups into time slots by age.
During the sign-ups for the 65 to 74 age group, the county tweeted, “In order to properly handle the demand of persons attempting to schedule an appointment for the 65-74 age group, the vendor is making changes to expand their bandwidth. Online appointment scheduling will resume at 3:30 pm for this age group.”
“From what we can tell the vendor continued to open up more and more portals throughout the day. They opened up a dedicated node at one point and so for example from last week there was really one call center that had been set up, this call center, this vendor, had like 3 call centers they were operating. So our bandwidth was greater but certainly, the volume was greater,” said Rezola.
He said the county will work with the vendor to have a “post-mortum” analysis of the day.
“Don’t give up. Right now we’re limited by the number of vaccine doses that are made available to us and so that really becomes a supply and demand issue. Just in Hillsborough County alone you have over 200,000 seniors over 65 and when you’re trying to distribute 9,000 doses it’s just not going to be there you’re going to have those challenges,” Rezola said.
Jason Salemi, Ph.D, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, said he tried consistently Tuesday to sign up his eligible relatives after a failed effort last week.
“It was more of the same. It seemed like it was going to let me set up an appointment but then just at that last step it was like the server was getting an overload and so I got an error message. And so I knew enough to keep trying. I had multiple browsers open and I just kept trying, trying, trying,” he said.
Like others, he met rejection after rejection online but was able to confirm appointments by the end of it.
“At the end of the day personally I walk away very satisfied that I was able to get people in very high-risk categories vaccine appointments for tomorrow and again that makes me feel really good but I also now how many people must be dying with this frustration and just cancellation after cancellation without knowing there is hope at the end of those efforts,” he said.
The Florida Department of Health in Pasco County is using the same vendor to facilitate its COVID19 vaccination registration.
They’re encouraging people to view locations and pre-register online at www.patientportalfl.com or 844-770-8548 to make it easier when openings become available.