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Rough Rollout Of Vaccinations In South Florida As Infections Skyrocket

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Websites to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations from Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Health in Broward County have been overwhelmed by demand.

New vaccination sites are opening and hospitals are doling out doses, but there's little clarity on how much vaccine is coming.

Crashed websites. Unanswered phone calls. Long lines. Confusing communication.

That has been the week for some in South Florida hoping to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Through Wednesday, about 100,000 people have been vaccinated in South Florida — according to the state health department. About 8,000 of those have received both doses of a vaccine.

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It has been a rough rollout even as new COVID-19 infections surge, with thousands of new cases reported in South Florida every day. The positivity rate is over 10%.

On Friday, websites to register for vaccinations with Miami-Dade County, the Florida Health Department in Broward County, and Jackson Health System were not accepting new appointments.

When they will reopen for more people is "really hard to predict," according to Miami-Dade County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Paige. He cites the opening of a state vaccination site at Hard Rock Stadium, as one destination for Florida's allotment of vaccines, for the unpredictability.

"We've not been told specifically how many we're going to get. I think that's something that's going to be determined. It's an extremely evolving situation as new areas open up to try to accommodate more and more patients, more vaccines are going to be utilized in those areas, making less available to some of the hospitals systems," he said.

There are multiple avenues for vaccines to get to the public when there is the supply — state-run sites, hospitals, "strike teams" targeting certain high-risk facilities and through Walgreens and CVS, directed through the federal government toward nursing homes.

Paige said Jackson Health is not holding back vials for second doses for people who have been recently vaccinated. Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized hospitals for doing this earlier in the week and threatened that those hospitals may not get future vaccine shipments. Jackson is using its 12,000-dose supply for first doses.

"The standard that we've been told that we'll get the second doses," Paige said.

There is no proof of residency required to receive a vaccine. By the governor's executive order, health care workers and people 65 years old and older are the priority right now.

Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya this week pledged the public hospital system is ready to vaccinate as many as 2,000 per day and expects that every senior citizen in Miami-Dade County who wants the doses will be able to get them by the end of next month. It is a prediction Paige agrees with. The issue is that "we need the vaccines."

COVID-19 vaccinations began Sunday in Broward County through the state health department — free, appointment-only appointments through a website. But the site has been overwhelmed, and is often not working.

"Please keep trying the link" is the advice on the website.

Broward County Mayor Steve Geller was quick to point out — it is a state agency in Broward County that is responsible, not the county itself.

"We don't have vaccines," he said, referring to county government. "We are trying to assist the Florida Department of Health in Broward that is doing this."

Geller cited the governor's order to open vaccinations to everyone 65 and older for the crush of demand that has overwhelmed the health department's website sign up and filled the available appointments at the eight vaccination sites in Broward County.

"As we, hopefully, we can open up some more sites, it's probably another six-to-eight weeks before every senior in Broward who wants the vaccination can get one. So the problem is you can't all get it tomorrow," Geller said.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.