PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County officials urged patience from the community as they work to disperse vaccinations to more than one million residents.
Mayor Dave Kerner was joined by county health director Dr. Alina Alonso and other county officials during a Thursday afternoon news conference.
Kerner said Palm Beach County was one of only eight counties in the state to receive the first allotment of the vaccine.
"Palm Beach County, as we sit here today, is ahead of the curve in terms of vaccination operations. We have already offered and inoculated the firefighters and paramedics of this county," Kerner said.
The county has also started working with the hospital health care systems to vaccinate health care professionals at hospitals.
However, Kerner said the process of getting the entire population vaccinated will take time over the next few months.
"If you're not 65 and older, I can tell you that you're not going to get a vaccination in the immediate future. We have a Herculean effort in front of us to make sure we offer and vaccinate any person over 65 that wants it in this county," Kerner said.
The county rolled out a phone number, 561-625-5180, this week for seniors to schedule an appointment to get the vaccine, but it has been inundated and often unavailable since it can only handle 150 calls at a time.
As a result, seniors have been asked to make appointments online at the email address CHD50feedback@flhealth.gov, an unusual address for people in a generation not known for being tech-savvy.
"It's actually quite effective," Alonso said. "We've gotten quite a few of those emails, and they're leaving their names, their phone numbers and their dates of birth."
"Let me manage expectations for a moment. The process of receiving the vaccine from the federal government to the states to the counties, and the distribution plans that go with this is something we don't have control over and certainly, everybody's looking to get these vaccines throughout the United States, and it's going to take time," Kerner said.
Alonso said there are plenty of doses of the vaccine, but it will take time to roll them out and distribute it to everyone.
"We have put in another system in place, in addition to the phone calls, we have got a data system that we're working on that will allow us to implement into the Florida system so we can keep track of the appointments and the people calling in," Alonso said.
Alonso said the county will have mobile units and field centers where people will be able to walk up or drive-thru to receive a vaccine.
"Not everyone can be vaccinated at once," Alonso said. "Please do not panic. I do not want to see any senior citizen in this county sitting in a chair or with a walker in line in the heat or sitting for hours waiting for a [vaccine] appointment. That is not necessary. Please do not do that."
The first seniors seen getting the vaccine this week were mostly white homeowners in a gated community in Delray Beach, however county leaders promise African Americans and Latinos 65 and older will get the vaccine soon.
In the meantime, county leaders urge people to wear masks, practice social distancing, and County Manager Verdenia Baker also urged people in Palm Beach County to celebrate New Year's Eve at home.
There have been a total of 81,899 confirmed coronavirus cases in Palm Beach County this year, including 1,881 deaths.
Florida has had more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases in 2020.