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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

We Asked If You Tried To Get A Coronavirus Vaccine. You Expressed Your Frustration

Close-up of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine vials
Pinellas County Department of Health
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Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are prepared for distribution in Pinellas County on Dec. 16, 2020.

WUSF posted a form to let you tell us about your experiences in scheduling a coronavirus vaccine appointment. Website and phone issues have made it a difficult proposition.

Disaster. Impossible. Hopeless. Frustrated. Disgrace.

These are just some of the words WUSF News and Health News Florida heard from Floridians asked to share their experiences with the state's COVID vaccine distribution efforts.

A combination of high demand and limited supply have created a difficult situation for residents age 65 and over and eligible to receive a dose of the vaccine. Add onto that a reservation system for seniors that’s dependent on online signups.

About 4 million people in the state fit into this priority group for the vaccine. The current flow of available doses into Florida right now means it could take up to four months to inoculate every one of these seniors, said Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s Emergency Management Director.

And these experiences in Florida don't seem to be letting up soon. The state has asked the federal government for more vaccines, but Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday there is no timeline on delivery.

Here’s a sampling of the frustrations some Floridians say they’ve experienced this week (some of the letters have been edited for length and clarity).

There were website issues:

I am a 68-year-old female with multiple serious pre-existing disease processes and I was most anxiously wanted to be vaccinated against this terrible virus. Starting at precisely 9 a.m. on Monday, 1/5, I did as instructed and tried to sign in to the Hillsborough County Vaccine Scheduling website and was unable to sign in to it. Repeated tries throughout the entire day proved futile. The website had crashed on its debut. After Monday, the county shut down the website. When using the website failed, I attempted to use the phone number they had given to sign up for the vaccine and that was perpetually busy. I re-dialed the number at least 400 times throughout the day and kept receiving a busy signal. After repeatedly failing to sign up for an appointment either by phone or website, a friend recommended I try to sign up for the vaccine in Manatee County, Sarasota County, Pasco and Pinellas and struck out there as well. It is absurd that our state didn't anticipate the overwhelming demand of people to get the vaccine and ensure that there was a viable means for them to sign up. Imagine, this is with the vaccine only being available to seniors over 65 years old. What will happen when it's open to everyone?

— Diana Rao, Tampa

We have tried every method possible since Charlotte County announced online registration. We went online at Charlotte every time it opens up with two different phones unable to connect at any time. Constant buffering even as we constantly update. The second opening for Charlotte County we actually started trying to get on periodically from 3 a.m. When Fort Myers announced, we both called the instant it opened. Got the Verizon notice of it being invalid. Redialed, between the two of us 300 times. When I got through at 20 minutes after noon. I filled out my birthdate as requested. Punched 1 for a call back to my number. It then hung up on me. At 4 p.m. that afternoon it called me. I answered immediately only to be hung up on in two seconds. When I sent an email of complaint to Lee Health website, I got back a form letter. I am 69 and my wife is 67, a breast cancer and stroke survivor.

— Richard McDaniel, Port Charlotte

I am 84 and while I am writing this, I am on the phone trying to get registered for a vaccine. I have been trying for three days and have not had been able to speak to anyone or to get registered. Last time I tried online, I was told that the line had crashed. I have tried late at night thinking I might get through but no luck. Seems like Florida as usual is just not up to the job.

— Lenore Bratter, Clearwater

My spouse and I have tried unsuccessfully for nine days to get an appointment. The instructions are very unclear. When we have tried to use the website, we have never gotten beyond being in a queue. We gave up. We will just wait awhile and see if Publix pharmacies near us start giving it.

— Kathleen Guilmette, North Port

I am 80 years old and live alone. At 9 a.m. Monday, I began trying to schedule appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination at University Mall on Fowler Avenue, according to an announcement from the health department as broadcast on WUSF Monday morning. The website was unresponsive whenever I attempted to enter information. The phone number gave a busy signal from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. whenever I attempted to call.

— Wayne Schucker, Carrollwood

Every time the Sarasota County Health Department has said that appointments would be available, I have logged to the website a few minutes prior to the announced time. I have usually opened two browser windows. As soon as the website has gone live, I have logged on. Every time, I get unavailable or sold out. A few times, I have been able to select a time. Then the website says we are searching for your tickets. Apparently, it never finds them because nothing further happens. It's a disaster. One would think they would have been better prepared.

— Paul Greene, Sarasota

And phone issues:

When I finally was able to get on the website, it had been shut down. It provided a phone number that I called dozens of times until 8 p.m. Monday and got nothing but busy signals. I started calling again at 8 a.m. Tuesday until I had to leave for an appointment. I started calling again when I got home at 2:15. I called 14 more times until 4:15 when I finally got an answer: a recording telling me there were no more appointments available.

— Phyllis Whitney, Lutz

Tried the website at 9 a.m., it crashed first try. Calendar would not populate. Tried the phone number to only get a busy signal all day the first day.

— Earl Poppell, Plant City

I have tried for two weeks to get an appointment both online as well as by phone. It is impossible. Unless you have multiple phones at once making calls you cannot get through. The websites don't even open due to crashing. I am a retired 74-year-old RN who has a blockage in my heart. I need the vaccine in order to have surgery to remove the blockage. It feels hopeless to me at this point to even try.

— Barbara Keck, Englewood

Very frustrating experience. First went to the website and three times I got as far as entering all my information. When I hit the Confirm button I got the wheel of death several times and then got a message that my time slot was gone. On Tuesday the only option was to call on the phone. Hit the phones at 8 a.m. when it opened and had two of us calling. Mostly it was busy signals. Five times I got as far as getting the recording telling me that I was in line, my call would be answered and don't hang up. As soon as that recording finished, it then went to another recording that said all agents were busy and to call back later, and I was then disconnected. Like I said, very frustrating. I don't expect much from the federal government under this administration and not that thrilled about the DeSantis administration, but I expect our local officials to be able to do a better job than I experienced. I mean, who could have known there would be a big demand????

— Kermit Kauffman, Tampa

Those who got through found there were no more vaccines:

I am 69 years old, living in Pasco County. Pasco is using an event system, similar to Ticketmaster, to "sell" free required reservations for the drive-thru vaccinations. Reservations are available 24 hours prior to getting to vaccine. I have pushed to register button at exactly 2 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. the last two days. All reservations were immediately sold out. I did not get one. Today the event system says that reservations are postponed pending arrival of more vaccine. Oh well ...

— John E. Phillips, Holiday

Yesterday (1/6/21) the Sarasota County DOH had announced that at 3:30 p.m. it would give out appointments for their next round of vaccinations. Promptly at 3:30 I clicked on the request appointment button on their website, requested an appointment for the first time on the list, and waited for about 15 minutes before a screen came on saying to choose a time, but all time slots were full or not available.

— Judith C. Jones, Englewood

I saw that I missed the first sign-ups. I then kept reading every possible news story, and post on the county website. I do not use Twitter (refused to use it since so much misinformation is posted on it.) I saw a health department link for the next appointments. Following it, at precisely 3:30, I could not get in. All sold out. For the next appointments at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, my husband and I each clicked the link on separate computers. We both got in, chose times, and then were told to wait. Fifteen minutes later, we were told the event was sold out. My husband is 75 and I am 73. We are both tech savvy (my husband is still employed as a scientist and I am retired from science). The web system being used is terrible. It has a very poor rating and many complaints on the Better Business Bureau. Initially, a story in the newspaper talked about texting to 888777 to get appointment notifications. We both did that and got acknowledgment, but no notifications. I re-texted and did get a notification for the next session. I am frustrated with the poor system. It's as bad as Florida's unemployment online system. I am also frustrated that I am a full-time Florida resident, pay taxes here, and yet must compete with vacationers to get vaccinations. The vaccines were created so quickly because scientists have been working on mRNA technology for years. Calling something Operation Warp Speed had nothing to do with it. Our government had ample opportunity to plan the actual vaccinations and has failed miserably.

— Barbara Evans, Venice

I have been going on the website almost daily and finding that all appointments have already been claimed. I called the Pasco Health Department on Tuesday with an assist from my healthcare provider and was told to go online to the site on Thursday, 1/7, at 2 p.m. and appointments for the following day would be available. When I went online at 2 p.m., I found an announcement that appointments had been suspended indefinitely with no explanation as to why.

— Joan E. Levinson, Trinity

Yesterday (1/6/21) the Sarasota County DOH had announced that at 3:30 p.m. it would give out appointments for their next round of vaccinations. Promptly at 3:30 I clicked on the request appointment button on their website, requested an appointment for the first time on the list, and waited for about 15 minutes before a screen came on saying to choose a time, but all time slots were full or not available.

— Christine Clark, Tampa

The technology was a challenge:

I set up an appointment online, but didn't get a confirmation notification. I'm 66 years old, and to enter my birthdate, I had to back-arrow 792 times to get to the calendar for 1954. By that time, (a few minutes) all the appointments were taken!

— Jill Gregalot, Sebring

My wife is 81 years and has COPD, so is considered at high risk for COVID. As soon as I heard the vaccine was available, I prepared to go on the internet. It isn't always easy for us octogenarians to use modern applications, but after about two hours navigating I felt ready to use the EVENTBRITE ticketing system. Each day I went to the site early and refreshed it constantly. Then when the ticketing became available I pressed the button for two tickets. Each day it kept me on a long hold (DO NOT REFRESH BROWSER!) and on one or two days it even put me on a temporary waiting list, but in every case it eventually told me there were no more tickets available. I would rather that they give out tickets by age (eg, over 90 years old first) or by co-morbidity or even by a signup list. Instead you have to stop your day and go to the site at the time directed and then it is just a crapshoot. Also my sister who lives nearby is homebound and nobody in Sarasota could tell me how she would get the vaccine.

— Dennis Joyce, Sarasota

For some, a good experience:

As a healthcare worker, I am very proud of the efforts by my colleagues to assure that healthcare workers have received appropriate immunization. I think it is important for the media to focus on our successes as an example of the possibilities to the general population. Within days of approval, I and most of my colleagues (after informed consent) received the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Advent Health Tampa. The absolute elation in the room as I got vaccinated with dozens of my colleagues was palpable. We had endured the brunt of the initial waves of the pandemic and now we were finally being protected so we could safely and expeditiously care for all of the patients for whom we dearly care. The nurse who vaccinated me had already been vaccinated. She was tearful as we spoke about colleagues who had been sickened. What I witnessed that day was American exceptionalism: A vaccine in less than one year ... a coordinated vaccination protocol ... heroic healthcare workers who continue to work the frontline trenches of the war against Covid-19.

— J.C. Biebuyck, MD, Palmetto

I am a community healthcare provider and was vaccinated at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Crowd control was somewhat chaotic entering the facility, but once inside, after a brief wait, it seemed to get a little more organized.

— Joseph C. Spoto III, Riverview

Our resort, a senior community, gave 3,000 Moderna vaccinations in three days. Our homeowners association organized it and folks drove up in golf carts. My husband and I, ages 73 and 71, felt grateful and relieved. The whole thing took 40 minutes from the time we left our home until we got back. Our only side-effect was a sore arm, similar to a flu shot.

— Anne Andress, Lakeland

It was the second day for signup in Pasco and by chance I came across the registration about 5 minutes before it opened. Since Manatee was on the news the night before, I was looking to see what Pasco was doing and went into Florida Department of Health in Pasco on my phone the morning of Dec. 31. I got up and logged on to my computer and registered myself, called the neighbor and registered her husband, who has Parkinson's. After that it was sold out. The event I thought was handled very well and it took about one hour to get the car in line and get home even after the 15-minute wait to see if there were any reactions to the vaccine.

— Katherine Burbridge, New Port Richey

The process left many frustrated:

I spent all day Mon (Jan. 4) calling the Pinellas Health Department while clicking on their website. On Tuesday, I called both phone numbers, while expanding my online search to county health departments as far away as Alachua. No success, and I just read that people who showed up at the Pinellas Health Department early Tuesday got vaccinated without appointments! This important event has been very poorly planned, and almost not executed!

— T. Vincent Shankey, St. Petersburg

Tried three times with no success. Manatee County has provided no direction or instructions, such as a simple link to the site. More information (and disinformation) has been provided by social media. The EventBrite site does not function when tens of thousands are clicking at the same time. Instead, the commissioners, who have probably never tried the site themselves, blame the problem on seniors who are not "tech-savvy," which is both hilarious and demeaning. I also suspect that fast internet connections make the difference in who actually succeeds on the site. Florida had months to prepare for the vaccine, but our government has failed to make this a successful experience for the vast majority. More people will become infected and die because of their ineptitude.

— Betty Parker, Lakewood Ranch

I got nowhere. I am 68 and a retired RN. This whole thing is a joke. I saw a notice on Nextdoor Neighbor website on Dec. 30 from the Pinellas DOH saying they were going to begin vaccinating people over 65 on Monday Jan 4th. That there would be a phone number to call and website to go to starting at noon time on the 4th and that the information to use these would also be available at noon. (They were planning to give you the phone number and website link to make reservations at the same time they were starting to take reservations for vaccinations?) On Monday I looked at the DOH website at 12:05. I tried the link to the reservation website and got a "busy" message. I called the phone number and got a busy signal. I tried the website again and this time I got an "error" message. I tried the website and the phone number again every half hour until 5:30 when I assumed the DOH closes. There was never any indication from the DOH what time the phone number and website would stop taking reservations, so I did try them both again about 8 p.m. and got the same. On Tuesday I tried both the phone number and the website again shortly after noon. Phone was busy. Website "error." About 1:15 p.m. I checked the DOH website. The message there said that all the reservations for the current stock of vaccines were taken and that they would start taking reservations again whenever they got more. So basically they have left everybody up in the air. I wasn't aware that the vaccine was being "rationed" or that only the health department was receiving them and able to give them. We have known for months that this was coming and this is the best that could be done?

— Tim Haggerty, St. Petersburg

We were unable to get through on phone (300+ attempts) or online when Pinellas County opened opportunity. We are both over 65 and I have a serious illness. Meanwhile, my friend and husband renting on the east coast for two months received their first shot yesterday in Broward County at a drive-through location. I am happy for them but angered at the differences and disparities in providing the vaccine. The Villages and other places are receiving vaccines via the governor and other political connections. Truly nauseating what is going on in Florida. My doctor is going to try to get me on the list now that BayCare is beginning to provide sites. This adds to the national embarrassment of the last few days in Washington. Lack of good leadership has had a chilling effect on so many aspects of our lives. Covid was allowed to spread out of control while Trump golfed, now we wait for vaccines and watch Trump’s mob desecrate our Capitol. Why be surprised?

— Barbara Glantz, Dunedin

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