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Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County: No plan, only 'strategies' for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine

'State vaccine plan ... only plan that exists'
Palm Beach County Health Department building
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 18:15:19-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County never created a plan for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in a county of nearly 1.5 million people, instead relying on what the department's director said is "strategies."

Contact 5 requested "a copy of the plan for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination in Palm Beach County" in public records request to the county's health department.

A spokesperson responded in an email, writing that the "state vaccine plan is the only plan that exists."

"Our local objective is to distrubute [sic] the vaccine with the support of Palm Beach County and the Healthcare District. This was outlined in the Board of County Commishioners [sic] meeting by Dr. Alonso in 1/12/21," the spokesperson wrote.

Susan Greene, 81, of West Palm Beach, told Contact 5 she thought the department was not prepared for the vaccine rollout.

Contact 5 spoke with Greene just minutes before she left her West Palm Beach home. Greene was on her way to finally get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

"I'm anxious to get on with my life," Greene said. "I don't know how much I have left."

Susan Greene, 81, of West Palm Beach, leaves home to get COVID-19 vaccine
Contact 5 interviewed Susan Greene, 81, of West Palm Beach, just hours before she drove to Clewiston to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Her destination was Clewiston, some 60 miles away. Greene said she couldn't get an appointment in Palm Beach County, despite living just blocks away from the county health department, so she drove to neighboring Hendry County instead.

Hearing the frustrations Greene shares with many other seniors in the county, Contact 5 caught up with Palm Beach County's top health official, Dr. Alina Alonso, after a Jan. 7 meeting with state lawmakers.

Michael Buczyner questions Dr. Alina Alonso in January 2021
Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner questions Dr. Alina Alonso as she leaves the Palm Beach County Convention Center, Jan. 7, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Alonso is the director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County. Contact 5 wanted to know if her department had a written plan in place for distributing the vaccines.

RELATED: Software snafu behind lack of portal for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Palm Beach County | Frustrated seniors find COVID-19 vaccine appointments outside Palm Beach County

"We've been preparing and ready for several months," Alonso told Contact 5. "We have our strategies, which I outlined today."

State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, also asked Alonso for the plan in December 2020 and was also only provided with strategies.

"They should have provided us with some type of plan," Slosberg said in an interview with Contact 5, explaining how she wanted more specifics. "Where they're going to put our vaccination sites and how long they're going to be there and how the distribution is going to operate."

Michael Buczyner speaks with state Rep. Emily Slosberg
Michael Buczyner speaks with state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, Jan. 19, 2021.

Contact 5 asked for an interview with Alonso and is awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, some seniors living in Palm Beach County are stuck waiting in a queue, with more than 200,000 people wanting a vaccine. The Health Care District of Palm Beach County is now assisting with the wait list.

Like Greene, others are leaving the county for vaccine appointments elsewhere, waiting for a return to some degree of normalcy.

"At 81, seriously, how many years do I have left? and to lose a whole year already?" Greene questioned. "I resent that if it's because of the incompetence of the people that I look to to provide the care I need."

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