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Frustration mounts as people face issues with Hillsborough COVID-19 vaccine appointment system

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Posted at 5:48 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 07:39:14-05

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County's appointment sign up system for COVID-19 vaccines will reopen from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday for some remaining appointments, after the process was met with frustrations for some initially.

This time, people must sign up for an appointment by phone. The county says it's expanded hours and is tripling the number of call agents. The phone lines will then be open 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday while supplies are available. That number is (888) 755-2822.

Hillsborough County's appointment sign up system for the COVID-19 vaccine for people 65 and older opened Monday morning, but the process wasn’t without frustration as people were hit with error messages and phone problems throughout the day.

“I tried at 9:01 a.m. from Orlando, and I couldn’t get on,” said Martha Patino. “My niece from Connecticut, she was able to get past a certain point, but then got stuck.”

Patino tried time and again to get an appointment for her 91-year-old mother. She says it took several family member attempts to finally get an appointment. Claudia Carrion, Patino’s niece, was able to get through for her grandmother and compared scoring an appointment to winning the lotto.

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“Some families, they’re trying for both their parents and aren’t even able to get one, so how blessed we were to be able to get an appointment for our grandmother,” said Carrion.

Hillsborough County says it will provide a total of 9,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to residents 65 and up. Dozens of people reached out to ABC Action News after they reported error messages online and problems connecting over the phone.

"At first it wouldn’t even open the site then about ten minutes later it opened the site and got me as far as click here to apply for an appointment then it went stupid. It wouldn’t go anyplace. Then it popped up that appointments were full," said Bob King.

The 74-year old said he couldn't get through by phone either.

"It’s frustrating because we’ve had 9 or 10 months to prepare for this," he said.

The county explained high demand led to service interruptions with the external registration system and phone center. Later in the afternoon, the county said the website vendor made the online scheduling service unavailable at that time.

"We had some challenges this morning. It’s just unprecedented numbers like 2,000 calls a minute coming in 00:35 and folks have had some challenges for our online portal unfortunately we had to bring that down to troubleshoot that so we can have a better experience moving forward," said Hillsborough County director of emergency management Tim Dudley.

Dudley said online scheduling will be offline Tuesday, while they continue to iron out the kinks. He said they'll only offer appointments when they actually have vaccines to schedule. It wasn't clear how many appointments were still left.

"You know this has been a challenge with COVID and we have some great teams in the county and some great partnerships we plan as well as we can and once we go public we try to offer a great product but again the citizens here in Hillsborough County that 65 plus group of they’re very very interested in the vaccine, been waiting on this so we’re gonna continue to make improvements on that to provide a better experience," Dudley said.

“She’s 77 and I’m 76, so we’re both considered high risk,” said Fred Levine.

Levine says he couldn’t get his wife an appointment on Monday. He was able to get through the steps for himself, but he explains that he never got the confirmation for the appointment.

“Right now, I’m waiting like three hours and 10 minutes, and I haven’t received a confirmation,” said Levine.

Hillsborough County says you can still call to schedule an appointment, but you should expect delays. The number is (888) 755-2822. Still, frustration is boiling over for people plagued with problems during the process.

“I feel that they had 8 months to try and figure this out,” said Patino. “They had plenty of time to figure this out, and just to throw it out there, especially for senior citizens that most of them are not computer savvy, what happens to those people that don’t have somebody there advocating for them? That’s what frustrates me,” said Patino.

Doses will be distributed at four sites across the county starting Wednesday, and appointments are mandatory. Here is the schedule for this week:

Wednesday, Jan. 6

  • Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, 2700 W. Risk St., Plant City, FL 33563
  • Ed Radice Sports Complex, 14720 Ed Radice Drive, Tampa, FL 33626

Thursday, Jan. 7

  • University Mall (parking lot), 2200 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL 33612
  • Vance Vogel Sports Complex, 13012 Bullfrog Creek Road, Gibsonton, FL 33534

Friday, Jan. 8

  • University Mall (parking lot)
  • Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds
  • Ed Radice Sports Complex

Saturday, Jan. 9

  • University Mall (parking lot)
  • Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds