WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Admitting there have been "very big problems" with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Palm Beach County's top health official echoed on Tuesday there's nowhere near enough doses to meet the surging demand of people who want to get inoculated.
"The vaccine is simply not flowing to Florida," health director Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners. "We need to realize that there's a shortage of vaccine. So it's not the plan, it's not our ability to do it. It's simply supply and demand at this point."
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Alonso said Palm Beach County ranks third in the state for vaccinations given at 47,960. That only falls behind neighboring Broward County, where 56,187 people have been vaccinated, and Miami-Dade County, which has administered 76,436 shots.
Palm Beach County is receiving around 4,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per week, but roughly 100,000 senior citizens have signed up to get vaccinated, according to Alonso.
"If you do the math, you realize there's no possible way that this is gonna be done in a week or even a month. This is gonna take time," Alonso said.
The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is currently administering the COVID-19 vaccine to people 65 and older, health care workers with direct patient contact, long-term care facility residents and staff, and people deemed to be "extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by hospital providers."
The only way you can request an appointment is by emailing the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alonso reminded people to include your name, date of birth, address, and phone number when emailing for an appointment.
A problem officials are running into with the email system is with people doubling up and sending multiple emails to the health department, thinking they will have a better chance of getting an appointment.
"That is not correct. This isn't a lottery. It just clogs up the system when you do that," Alonso said, urging people to only send one email request.
Once you email the health department for an appointment, your name is put into a queue in the order it was received. Alonso assured the public that their emails are being received, even if you don't get an immediate confirmation.
"Your email is there. You do not have to get the confirmation in order for the email to go in," Alonso said.
The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is planning to send an email blast on Tuesday to everyone who's emailed for an appointment, explaining that it will take weeks or months before they can get vaccinated.
In addition, the health department is working on a new web-based appointment system. However, there's no timeline for when that system will be up-and-running.
Alonso said that as Palm Beach County receives more vaccine, it's expected to enter Phase 2 in February or March and open up vaccinations to more groups and populations. Phase 2 will include mass vaccination centers, clinics, mobile units, pop-up sites, and community points of distribution.
Alonso said Phase 3, in which the general population as a whole can get vaccinated, likely won't happen until April at the earliest.
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Last Thursday, Dr. Alonso said there is a backlog of thousands of people who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County.
"Right now, the expectation is it's gonna take weeks to months before they actually get an appointment," Alonso told a delegation of state lawmakers.
County officials said there is a "supply chain issue" with the vaccine, and Palm Beach County simply isn't receiving enough doses to meet the overwhelming demand of residents who want to get inoculated.
"There is room to do better. We can do better," Mayor Dave Kerner said during a news conference in West Palm Beach last Thursday.
Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay posted on Facebook that 93,000 people have registered to receive the vaccine in Palm Beach County, but the county has only gotten 24,500 doses from the state.
"As of this morning, 900 were left and were being given today," McKinlay wrote in her post on Monday evening. "FDOH-PB is expecting a shipment of 4,000 vaccines today or tomorrow. That would bring the total vaccines in our County to 28,500."
McKinlay urged the public to have patience, saying "everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get one."
"It’s going to take time. And vaccines," McKinlay wrote. "The County is finalizing our mass rollout plans. We will be ready when the vaccines come and we’re asked to assist."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 92,542 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,972 coronavirus-related deaths in Palm Beach County.
Alonso said on Monday the most recent daily COVID-19 positivity rate in Palm Beach County was 8.85% on Jan. 10. Health officials aim to keep the positivity rate below 5% because that allows for more effective contact tracing.
For the latest information about the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County, click here.