WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County's top health official admitted on Thursday there is a backlog of thousands of people who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and it could take months before they even get an appointment.
Speaking to a delegation of state lawmakers at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, health director Dr. Alina Alonso said the county simply doesn't have enough vaccine supply to meet the overwhelming demand of seniors 65 and older who want to get inoculated.
"Right now, the expectation is it's gonna take weeks to months before they actually get an appointment," Alonso said. "We probably have thousands of people in the queue right now."
WATCH DR. ALONSO'S ADDRESS:
Alonso said Palm Beach County received 20,000 doses of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23.
"We thought we were gonna continue to get 20,000. We only got 4,500 doses," Alonso said. "As you can see, if you do the math, that's gonna take months to get all these people vaccinated."
The health director said the problem lies, in part, in a recent decision by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow residents who are 65 and older to receive the vaccine. Alonso said it would've been more appropriate to set that number at 85 and older, or people with certain health conditions.
"So you don't have 400,000 senior citizens thinking they can get a vaccine tomorrow. That expectation is not realistic," Alonso said.
Palm Beach County is currently vaccinating around 500 people per day, mainly those 65 and older and health care workers. Alonso said the county is working to open up a mass vaccination site to accommodate more people once more vaccine comes in.
"Until we can get set up, have enough vaccine to start doing mass, that's why I'm saying, please help us get more vaccine," Alonso said. "Instead of seeing 500, I can do 3,000. Then all of those people will actually get appointments."
Currently, 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.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, told Alonso she's fielded many calls from frustrated constituents who said they're unsure how to make an appointment.
State Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, echoed Slosberg's concerns.
"Your website as you call it, or it's actually an email, is about the most misleading website, email address I could ever figure out, let alone seniors," Willhite said.
Alonso said the health department's email address is the most accurate way to "make sure that nobody slips through."
Even if you don't receive a response immediately, Alonso assured lawmakers that every email is being captured, and staff members are putting each person's address and zip code into a spreadsheet to categorize them.
Alonso said that once mass vaccination sites open up, those addresses and zip codes will be put into a web-based appointment system.
"There's a large number of senior citizens getting appointments and being vaccinated. But the people that are in the queue are just in that queue, and I totally understand their frustration," Alonso said.
Alonso told WPTV Investigative Reporter Michael Buczyner after Thursday's event that the health department is working on a "different way" of making appointments.
"We didn't know we were gonna have that problem," Alonso said.
"You didn't expect there to be a problem with the phone lines or the website?" Buczyner asked.
"Nope," Alonso answered, adding that her department has been "preparing and ready for several months" to distribute the vaccine.
WPTV Contact 5 has reported on issues surrounding the vaccine rollout, including frustrations from seniors trying to schedule appointments to local lawmakers asking the state for additional assistance.
Florida isn't alone in its rocky rollout. Contact 5 has reported that several other states have also experienced issues getting the COVID-19 vaccine out to the public.