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South Florida Seniors Still Struggle To Find COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced efforts to increase vaccinations of people ages 65 and older during a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Jan. 4, 2020.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced efforts to increase vaccinations of people ages 65 and older during a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Jan. 4, 2020.

Securing an appointment isn't easy. Listerners say the process depends on where you live, how much research you can do and, sometimes, whether you have a friend or relative to help.

People in Florida ages 65 and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23, when Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order. Getting an appointment isn't easy, as we heard from listeners who have been vaccinated or who have helped their loved ones get vaccinated.

The process depends on where you live, how much research you can do, and sometimes, whether you have a friend or relative there to help.

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Last week, Annette Linder, 78, needed lots of determination to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment somewhere in South Florida. She and her husband live in Martin County, just north of Palm Beach.

"I had been on the phone from 6 a.m. early in the morning and just dialing everywhere that I could dial, even all the way into Palm Beach County, even Mount Sinai in Miami Beach, even Jackson Memorial in Miami, all the Broward sites," she told WLRN.

She couldn’t get anyone on the phone, though.

"It was just awful not being able to get through," added Linder, who got lucky when her neighbor happened to be at a lab in Fort Pierce getting a COVID-19 test.

"My friend called me from this laboratory and said that they had gotten their test but that she also found out that they had the vaccine," she said.

After getting the tip, Linder and her husband jumped in the car to go straight there, about an hour away, and make an appointment. Sure enough, an employee confirmed they had the vaccine.

"When he said, 'Stay around, we'll get you in today,' I started to cry," Linder said. "I mean we don’t have that many more years left."

Like many states, Florida has only used about one third of the vaccine doses it received — enough to give the first shot to 2% of the state population. The state left it up to hospitals and the Department of Health in each county to come up with a rollout plan, which means each vaccination site has its own way of booking appointments.

Many seniors needed help to know where to turn, such as a tip from a friend, or a patient son like Carlos Verney Jr., who kept refreshing the website of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County.

"The website would go down often to book the appointment," Verney said in a voice memo he sent to WLRN last week.

It finally stopped crashing long enough for Verney to get his father, Carlos Alberto Verney Sr., an appointment at the Tradewinds Park drive-thru site in Coconut Creek, albeit, one with a long wait.

"It took us approximately four and a half hours for him to receive that vaccine," Verney said. "I do have to say that it was a pretty smooth and seamless process. There were plenty of signs directing us to where we could go. There was eight tents where the vaccine could be administered."

That park was also where Jill Sandler was to go for her COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

"But there was no confirmation," she told WLRN in her voice memo.

Sandler never got an email confirming the day and time of her appointment, she said. Many listeners and readers have had the same problem.

"When we got there, our name was not on the list, so they refused to give us the vaccination," she added.

For many seniors in assisted living or retirement communities, the vaccine is being administered where they live. That’s how it worked for Dr. Moses Kranzler, 92, who lives in Century Village at Boca Raton. A long line to make appointments formed almost as soon as the community announced a temporary vaccine station, he said.

"People had to stand or were standing for four, five hours," Kranzler said.

Kranzler got there early and has now been vaccinated, but the long line for appointments formed several mornings in a row.

"This morning's line at approximately 9 o'clock, there must have been several hundred people on the line," he said.

Kranzler and his neighbors will be back for their booster shots in the coming weeks, but they’re not in the clear yet.

"I'm waiting for that second shot, so I’m looking forward to the time I don’t have to think about it so I can go enjoy my family the way I should," Kranzler added.

The vaccine program is still scaling up. State officials say about 250,000 additional doses are coming this week. Shots will soon be given at some COVID-19 testing sites, and at some places of worship, to increase access for Black and Latino residents.

Doses of both vaccines have to be given within 30 days. In an effort to speed up the process and avoid waste, Tallahassee is instructing vaccine sites to operate seven days a week. Florida is also hiring 1,000 nurses to work alongside the National Guard.

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Verónica Zaragovia