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Hillsborough, Pinellas Outline Changes To Address COVID-19 Vaccine Issues

Hillsborough County will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccinations to people age 65 and older by appointment starting Wednesday.
Hillsborough County will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccinations to people age 65 and older by appointment starting Wednesday.

The counties were taking reservations by phone after websites crashed Tuesday but filled time slots after a short time.

Florida counties are making adjustments to their coronavirus vaccine reservation systems after websites crashed and phone lines backed up, hampering initial sign-up efforts.

Hillsborough County began accepting appointments only over the phone on Tuesday as it works to fix its online portal. It extended operating hours and tripled the number of staff working at its call center to accommodate the demand.

But as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Hillsborough announced appointments were no longer available, likely until next week. The same was anounced in Polk County. Pinellas County stopped taking reservations at 1 p.m.

“We expect a lot of interest in the vaccine so we're going to continue to make the experience a lot better,” said Hillsborough emergency management director Timothy Dudley.

The Hillsborough line to call for appointments is (888) 755-2822. When appointments resume, the line will be open Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dudley acknowledged residents’ frustration with the rollout and said officials anticipated the need for vaccines for people 65 and older would far outweigh initial supplies. He said he hopes residents won’t be discouraged by the early challenges.

“For those who couldn't get in, we're just asking you to be patient and do call back and if you meet the criteria we'll definitely try to get you your appointment while they last,” he said.

Pinellas County experienced similar issues Monday and has also stopped using its online sign-up portal.

The Department of Health in Pinellas created a temporary call-in system until it could launch a revised website.

Before 1 p.m. Tuesday, the county had scheduled appointments for all of its existing vaccines and stopped accepting calls for reservations.

Counties are cautioning residents to be wary of fake websites that may trick them into thinking they have an appointment or even charge for a reservation.

Pinellas and Pasco counties dealt with scam pages on the Eventbrite site but officials say they're working with the company and law enforcement to address the issue.

Thousands of residents in the region have managed to make appointments and community vaccinations are underway in several counties including Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota. Hillsborough County’s public sites start operating on Wednesday.

More appointments will become available as additional vaccine shipments arrive later this week and next.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.