Coronavirus: Mounting glitches keep Palm Beach County seniors on edge about vaccinations


In the Palm Beach Post, Jane Musgrave reports on the anxiety and frustration some citizens are experiencing in Southeast Florida to obtain an appointment to receive the coronavirus vaccine.  Though health units are trying to formulate an efficient line of communication they are having challenges of their own as you will find in their responses within the article.  Here’s the report:

An email blast that was supposed to calm anxious seniors about their chances of receiving a coronavirus vaccine  imploded on the Palm Beach County Health Department when its system was unable to send out the messages en masse.

Once again blaming technical glitches, health officials on Wednesday said their system couldn’t send all 120,000 emails at once.

The emails, which were to be sent out Tuesday to assure seniors that their requests for appointments had been received, were being sent out “incrementally,” said Alexander Shaw, a spokesman for the state-run health department.

More: Coronavirus Florida: Latest charts and case counts

By about midday, 92,201 emails had been successfully sent, he said. Another 21,119 that had been flagged as spam or were linked to a phone number rather than an email account bounced back. Officials were trying to figure out how to resend them.

Shaw said that other than those, he expected the remaining 6,680 would be sent out by the end of the day.

For seniors, who have spent more than a month on the phone trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get an appointment, the inability of the agency to send out the confirmations further eroded their confidence in the vaccine distribution process.

The email blast wouldn’t have been necessary if the agency’s system had been able to automatically send out confirmations when appointments were requested. The system jammed when too many emails were received, said Dr. Alina Alonso, county health director.

And seniors wouldn’t have been forced to send emails to request appointments if a hotline hadn’t crashed under an avalanche of phone calls.

“This takes on the appearance of the gang that can’t shoot straight,” said Nancy Pullum, a 73-year-old West Palm Beach resident. “No telling how this is working and what lies ahead for others who were equally frustrated as I was.”

While Pullum never got an email confirming her request, she received a phone call from the health department telling her she had an appointment to get the vaccine Thursday.

Shaw said Pullum is among those who requested appointments on Dec. 30 who have been scheduled to receive the first dose of the two-shot vaccine. Everyone who requested appointments before that has been contacted, he said.

Charlene Blass, who survived lung cancer and worries that she wouldn’t survive COVID-19, said she has spent hours on the phone and the internet and even visited hospitals in an unsuccessful attempt to get an appointment.

“It’s so frustrating,” the 73-year-old Boynton Beach area woman said. “If I get this, I die. Yet I’m running around like a fruit loop.”

Dr. John Rubin, a Boca Raton internist, said some of the chaos could have been avoided if Gov. Ron DeSantis hadn’t tried to “reinvent the wheel” on vaccination distribution.

“The Department of Health is overwhelmed, as are the hospitals, which have never been set up to vaccinate the community,” he said in a letter he sent to county commissioners and the Florida American College of Physicians Leadership.

Historically, flu vaccines and others have been administered by doctors, pharmacies and urgent-care clinics, he said.

Sending people to doctors would assure that those who need them the most, not just anyone over the age of 65, receives them, he said.

“COVID-19 is most lethal in people over the age of 80 and those with significant comorbidities,” he wrote. “The doctors are the only group who can correctly identify this group and insure they are prioritized for vaccination.”

More: ‘I feel like a piece of me died with him’: How COVID ravaged Palm Beach County

The current system, which relies on emails or internet appointments, favors seniors who are younger, healthier and can easily navigate the system, he said.

The numbers bear him out. Of the 646,327 in the state who have received the first shot, 219,112 are aged 65 to 74, according to the Florida Department of Health. That’s by far the most of any age group.

According to the state, 120,815 people aged 75 to 84 have gotten one shot and 47,409 people 85 or older have received the first dose.

At press conferences Wednesday to announce more Publix stores elsewhere in the state would be giving shots, DeSantis lauded his distribution plan that he has dubbed “Seniors First.”

Front-line health care workers, as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities, are also in the first wave.

But even as he announced that 105 Publix stores in 12 counties would be offering vaccinations, he acknowledged that supplies were insufficient.

“Just hang in there,” he told seniors while standing in from of a Publix supermarket in Naples. “It’s a very prized commodity right now.”

More: COVID: Are the rich on Palm Beach cutting in line to get vaccine?

Once additional vaccines become available, DeSantis said, he would send additional vaccines to Publix stores in the state’s urban areas, including Palm Beach County.

He said he began the Publix vaccination program in mid-sized counties in the Panhandle, Northeast, Southwest and Central Florida because they don’t have the “health infrastructure” that exists in more populous counties.

In addition to the health department, hospitals in Palm Beach County are supposed to set up vaccination clinics for those 65 and older.

However, while hospital officials said they are making plans, none have begun setting up regular appointments. Wellington Regional Medical Center accepted appointments from seniors for one day, but the slots were quickly snapped up.

“We do not have a definitive time schedule for when we will be able to vaccinate any more members of the public,” said Allen Poston, a spokesman for Wellington Regional. “At this point, all of our appointment times have been utilized and the hospital is unsure when, or if, we will be receiving more vaccine.”

That leaves seniors and others who have serious health problems struggling to find other ways to get a vaccine.

Blass said she made 42 phone calls on one day to no avail. Pullum said computer-savvy friends have set up alerts so they learn immediately where appointments are available.

“It’s like a wild goose chase,” Blass said. “It’s insane.”


Request an appointment by emailing this address:

Include your name, phone number and date of birth. You will be contacted in the order your email was received with more instructions as appointment times are available. The appointments are based on vaccine availability.

  • Palm Beach Post
  • 01/14/2021
  • Jane Musgrave