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Pinellas halts vaccine registrations as first 3,000 spots fill up

Pinellas County hopes to open four more vaccine sites
Posted at 5:44 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 18:30:00-05

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla.  — Booked solid! Pinellas County says it has officially closed all new registrations for COVID-19 vaccines after the entire allotment of shots has been spoken for.

It comes on the very first day of COVID-19 vaccination administrations for people over age 65 in Pinellas County, and there is no word when more appointments will open up.

Currently, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County is working to secure more vials from the state. Once that happens, local leaders say the registration process will reopen for sign-ups.

David Hancock is one of the lucky ones. He received a vaccine Tuesday at the Florida Department of Health’s Clearwater office and says he feels like he won the lottery. He hopes the vaccine is a turning point.

“It was fine. I didn’t even feel it really,” he said moments after getting the shot. Hancock has nine grandchildren and says he and his wife wanted to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their family members.

“Since COVID-19 is running pretty rampant, we wanted to protect ourselves and everyone else too. We’re trying to do what we can to slow it down and hopefully stop it eventually,” he elaborated.

Pinellas County has just 400 vaccines to give out each day, which is spread between three locations in St. Petersburg, Largo, and Clearwater. The county only received an initial 3,000 doses, according to Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard. That makes every vial in critical demand. So much so, people spent hours online and on the phone trying to get one.

Candance Sabella says she spent a total of six hours working to get an appointment and was amazed when her efforts paid off. “That rollout was awful. I mean, it was terrible. I did it all day long. I had four computers plus me calling on the phone and my hubby calling on the phone,” she explained.

ABC Action News found several people able to walk up and get an appointment face-to-face on Tuesday, which was not even announced as an option by the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

Pat Furino tried her luck by showing up and was amazed she was able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Yesterday I spent over four hours on the phone, six hours on the computer and so today walking in here took just 10 minutes and we have an appointment for Friday. I’m in heaven. I couldn’t be happier,” she exclaimed.

By 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, as lines grew outside the departments of health, all of the county’s vaccines were spoken for.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County leaders say they are confident they will be able to secure more vials and make signing up easier.

“It’s our goal to fix those problems as quickly as possible so we can get the system up and running and have it much more efficient,” said spokesperson Tom Iovino.

With 250,000 people in Pinellas County over the age of 65, Iovino estimates it will take months to make sure everyone who wants to be vaccinated is able to.

Yet despite all the frustration, Sabella believes history is in the making.

“I think it’s a really big deal and a happy day altogether because I think it’s life-altering. We have really been on lockdown,” she added.

Once Pinellas County reopens the vaccine registration, they will once again allow people to call to make appointments over the phone. Showing up in person is another option, but Iovino says it isn’t as recommended as calling because appointments are not guaranteed.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, which is a state agency, is now teaming up with the Pinellas County government to alleviate future vaccination hurdles. A joint effort is now underway to identify a reliable pre-registration platform that will make it easy for people to sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when more become available.

"We completely understand the public frustration over our overwhelmed web and phone systems, and are working around the clock to ensure we can provide a much better experience," said Dr. Ulyee Choe, Florida DOH-Pinellas Director.

The state health agency also tells ABC Action News that Pinellas County Government has submitted a plan for state approval that would open up four additional vaccination sites for those 65 and over. The sites would be run by fire department paramedics who have already completed the necessary training in anticipation of the requested state approval.