PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — “We were set up to fail.” That’s the message some Pinellas County leaders are making clear as they voice frustrations over not knowing how many COVID-19 vaccines they will receive or when they will arrive in Tampa Bay.
In Pinellas County, the vaccine rollout took a lot of heat from county commissioners Thursday during a work session meeting.
“Everyone in our government system, in our state, has been set up to fail,” Commissioner Janet Long explained, discussing the bumpy rollout earlier in the week.
Commissioner Karen Seel agreed, “There’s no way we can get the technology in order to get 250,000 people accessing a phone line or accessing a website. It’s logistically a nightmare.”
Pinellas County leaders spent more than an hour Thursday discussing solutions. The county is now considering hiring an outside vendor to help with registrations. They believe the company would be better equipped to handle the high volume of calls and online registrations for vaccine appointments.
They’re also working with the state to open four new locations for vaccine distributions, which would utilize fire paramedics to administer vaccines.
The county is also reaching out to local hospitals to see if they can provide the vaccine to patients who are aged 65 and above.
Before Pinellas County ran out, those who got a vaccine tell ABC Action News they are feeling awfully lucky.
Rick Davis got the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday. He said his wife has MS and they take their health very seriously.
“To get it this early, this quick, it’s great,” he elaborated.
Larry Flaherty also got the vaccine Thursday.
“For me, with my COPD as bad as it is, I’m very lucky that I got in,” he said.
More than 20,300 people have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County Director Dr. Ulyee Choe.
The gradual state vaccine rollout comes at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking, with the county now averaging around 11 percent positive among those tested and an all-time high for new daily cases on New Year’s Eve with 878.
“We’re going to get into a critical time over the next month, and we’re asking people to do everything they can,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said.
Since the holidays, the county has reached a total of 1,110 deaths, and the virus is putting increasing strain on hospitals, with more patients coming in and more staff getting exposed or sick, Choe shared at Thursday’s meeting.
The state has not announced the number of vaccines coming to Pinellas County in the coming weeks, but as new vaccine supply becomes available, the county will share this information online at https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/vaccines/.
Citrus County also began vaccine distributions Thursday. The county opted for a first-come, first-served way of distributing the vaccine.
On Thursday, lines reached up to four hours, backing up four blocks along Lecanto Highway in Beverly Hills. A second drive-thru clinic will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or until supplies last at the Central Ridge District Park, 6905 N. Lecanto Hwy in Beverly Hills.
Audrey Stasko, a spokesperson for the Department of Health in Citrus County, says they have 1,600 total vaccines to distribute to those age 65 and older.
“We haven’t had any word about when we’ll get our next shipment or anything like that,” she added.
The Department of Health in Citrus County leaders say they didn’t want to see people skipping appointments like they did for COVID-19 testing.
“We knew that couldn’t happen with these vaccines. We needed to get them to the people who wanted them, so this was the quickest and safest way we could do that,” she said.