TAMPA, Fla. — Across Florida, county computers crashed and phone lines were a bust on day one of public sign-up for seniors seeking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s a joke,” said one woman in Manatee County on Monday.
By day’s end, Tampa Bay seniors hopeful to make an appointment to get their shot in the arm were left with nothing but a harsh dose of reality.
“Nothing, nada, tried to call but can’t get through,” a man told ABC Action News.
In Lee County, an initial first come first serve strategy last week drew crowded lines of 65 and older, national criticism, and a revised plan that left seniors not having to show up inline, but that still didn’t work for the masses.
“You can’t fit 200,000 people in 5,000 slots,” said a county official.
On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis responded to the mounting frustrations.
“I think a lot of the criticism nationwide is unfair. There weren’t doses in hand until right before Christmas,” DeSantis said from a hospital in Orlando.
During the press conference, DeSantis also laid out a series of new moves to help expedite the state’s distribution of the vaccine statewide. The problem, the state never had much of a rollout plan, to begin with.
Other than directing groups first to get vaccinated (including healthcare workers first responders and residents of long-term care facilities), Florida’s leadership has delegated the details on how to administer the vaccine to county health departments and hospitals, many of whom are still consumed with treating infected patients.
But are other states doing it better?
“I think California, Texas, New York, they’ve all been tripping over themselves trying to figure out how to do this right,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health policy expert with the University of South Florida.
“It’s not a Florida problem. It’s a national problem. We don’t have a national system. States have not created the funded infrastructure for something like this,” Wolf said. Wolf added funding cuts to public health infrastructure has been a problem for decades.
You don’t need to look very far to see the mishaps plaguing other states.
In Colorado, reports of chaos made headlines after the state altered its list of who was eligible for the vaccine but didn’t tell its county health departments who are tasks with administering the shots.
In Arizona, a recent computer glitch lefts tens of thousands of healthcare workers who registered for the vaccine unable to get it, said Will Humble, Executive Director of the state’s healthcare association.
“It’s been a real challenge in Arizona,” Humble told us. The state’s glitch has since been fixed. Still, Arizona has only administered roughly 20% of all vaccines its received, according to the Centers for Disease Control state-by-state vaccine tracker.
In an interview last week, Florida’s Emergency Management boss, Jared Moskowitz, acknowledged the state’s bumpy start. The feds aren’t offering states much direction either.
“It’s tough to do long-range planning when you’re only getting week-to-week info. I’m only getting what’s coming this week and next week, that’s it,” Moskowtiz said.
In all, nearly 265,000 people in Florida, including healthcare workers and first responders, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control, that number represents 23% of total vaccines sent to the Sunshine State so far.
See how many vaccine doses have been distributed and administered across the country by clicking here.