PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Frustrating, time-consuming and aggravating. Those are all words people over age 65 have used to describe the process of trying to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, at least some relief is coming from local Tampa Bay Hospitals as they begin to play a role in community vaccination efforts.
Many local hospitals, including Bayfront Health, Tampa General, AdventHealth and BayCare, are now launching their own vaccine distributions specifically for their patients above age 65.
Hospitals seem to be getting vials faster than local health departments in part because of storage capabilities.
“You have to have a $15,000 or more freezer to store the vaccines, particularly the Pfizer vaccine, for long periods of time so kind of by necessity that vaccine has to go to places it can be stored and distributed by those locations,” Dr. Michael Teng at USF’s College of Medicine explained.
While the free hospital distributions are limited to patients only, Pinellas County leaders say it is expected to help cut down on the massive demand for COVID-19 vaccines.
Bill Hammond, who lives in Pinellas County and is waiting to get the vaccine, has spent weeks waiting to get an appointment. He’s fed up with hitting one roadblock after another.
“It’s terribly frustrating,” he said. “When you’ve worked so hard all your life to stay alive to not be able to get a shot because of incompetence somewhere, I don’t know where; it’s not a great system.”
Pinellas County leaders just found out they’re expecting another batch of shots to arrive next week, but they’re only getting 10,000 vials. That’s a small amount considering there are 250,000 people in the county over the age of 65.
“We’re receiving a small amount in terms of the total need. A lot of the distribution is going to come through other means,” County Administrator Barry Burton said.
Burton expects the 10,000 vials to go extremely quickly, adding, “If you have a doctor group and you’re able to go through them, obviously that’s the easiest place to go through.”
Many hospitals are reaching out directly to their patients to let them know they are eligible. However, if you are above age 65, it may be worth calling your doctor’s office or hospital where you’ve had a recent procedure to see if you qualify.