County Health Department officials stress need for persons to decline appointments if they cannot keep them and to refrain from showing up at vaccination site without appointments
As the number of vaccination registrations continues to climb in Sarasota County’s Everbridge system, clinics continue to take place at the new location that the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) unveiled last week — Sarasota Square mall, located at 8201 S. Tamiami Trail.
As of Feb. 3 — the last date for which figures were available prior to publication of this issue of The Sarasota News Leader — DOH-Sarasota had scheduled appointments up to number 7,474, the county’s dedicated vaccination webpage noted.
(To reach that page quickly on the county website, click on the purple bar at the top of the homepage.)
Additionally, county staff advised the public on Feb. 4 that community members age 65 and older who received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the Jan. 9-10 event at Sarasota Memorial Hospital “should plan to return to the hospital auditorium for their second dose Feb. 6-7.” That advisory added, “The second-dose appointment will be for the same time slot as the first-dose appointment, on the date listed on the vaccination record card provided to each attendee at the January event at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.”
The advisory does caution that no first doses will be available at this follow-up event. For more information, go to https://www.smh.com/vaccine.
As of 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 3, more than 119,917 account registrants were listed in the county system, not including second-person sign-ups, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported.
Staff continues to estimate that 40% to 50% of those accounts include a second person, such as a spouse or caregiver, Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, said during a Feb. 1 video update.
The county team dedicated to the vaccination process also has continued to work on eliminating duplications from the system, Collins noted on Feb. 1. “We have a lot of duplications,” he said, with some people being registered as many as six times.
For example, he pointed out, an adult child may have registered a parent, even though the parent was registering, too.
In cases of duplication, Chuck Henry, the county Health Officer, stressed, staff will retain the account that has the lowest number, “So you don’t lose your place in line.”
Henry and Collins advised people who have registered to keep a watch on the county COVID-19 vaccination webpage for regular updates of the box showing how many doses have been delivered. That way, individuals will have a better idea about when they might expect to get notifications of appointments during upcoming clinics.
Additionally, county staff is reminding members of the public with questions about their accounts that they may call the Vaccine Registration Support call center at 941-861-VAXS (8297). Call center operators will be able to assist with verification of registration, username or registration number, for examples, county staff says.
Individuals wishing to verify their registration number can do so on their own by logging into their Everbridge account through this link, county staff also has noted. Usernames are case sensitive, staff is reminding everyone.
After navigating to the “My Information” section of the account, a person will see his or her registration number.
Further, during the Feb. 1 video update, Henry stressed the need for those who receive notifications to let staff know if they have conflicts and will not be able to accept the time or date. If someone cannot come for the appointment block he or she has received, Henry and Collins have explained, staff will put the person in the next group slated for vaccinations.
However, staff has pointed out that if someone cancels or declines three appointment opportunities, the person’s name will be placed at the end of the registration line. (For more details on that protocol, watch this county YouTube link with Communications Director Donn Patchen. Each person notified of an appointment will receive details about the date, time and place, Patchen points out. Then the person has three options: 1 — to confirm the appointment; 2 — to respond that the person is unavailable at that time; or 3 — to decline because the person no longer is interested. If a person has asked to be notified by text, he adds, the person should respond with the appropriate number — 1, 2 or 3.)
Concerns about ‘no-shows’ and ‘walk-ups’
Moreover, during the Feb. 1 update, Henry emphasized staff’s continuing efforts to ensure that none of the Moderna vaccine it has received is wasted.
On Jan. 29, he said, “We had about 300 no-shows, and that creates a big issue for us, because we want to get the vaccine into arms.”
Staff added those 300 leftover doses to the 3,300 it received for clinics on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Henry reported.
Further, Henry asked that if anyone registered in the county system who has received the vaccinations at another location remove his or her name from the Everbridge system. “That would really help us out …”
During a Feb. 3 video update, Steve Huard, the public information officer for DOH-Sarasota, emphasized yet another issue that has become a concern: People who do not have appointments should not show up at Sarasota Square at the end of the day when a clinic has been scheduled, hoping to get a shot. “We can’t help you,” Huard pointed out.
No walk-ups are allowed to be vaccinated, he stressed. Any doses not delivered during a clinic go back into the supply for the next group of appointments, Huard said.
“Right now,” Henry continued during the Feb. 1 video, “the biggest issue has been … the amount of vaccine coming into our county.”
As he reported to the County Commission on Jan. 26, the DOH-Sarasota staff typically learns late each week how many doses it will have to deliver the following week. The state handles the distribution of the vaccines, based on the supply it receives from the federal government, he noted.
“We’re pleased to see over 3,000 doses a week,” Henry said during the Feb. 1 update. Early on, he pointed out, DOH-Sarasota was getting about 1,000 or fewer doses per week. “We’d like to see over 10,000 a week,” he added, as the Sarasota Square site has the capacity for staff to deliver that many weekly doses.
The state system
On Jan. 29, State of Florida leaders announced the launch of a statewide vaccination registration system. A news release explained that persons who use that system will be contacted when appointments become available “at state-supported vaccination sites.”
After receiving the release that day, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis emailed the commissioners, advising them of the news, including a copy of the state release.
“The County had not heard this was coming,” Lewis wrote.
When he spoke with Health Officer Henry, Lewis continued, he learned that DOH-Sarasota staff “did not know it was coming either.” Moreover, Lewis pointed out, when he contacted administrative officers in other counties, he discovered that “none of them seem to have been aware of this press release until it was received.”
Then Lewis added, “Based on my conversations with Chuck he is not switching systems at this time unless mandated by the State. While the state system might get to the point of full functionality he does not believe it currently provides the functionality that our community expects.
“Much like many other counties, our team is communicating that the local DOH is staying with our system,” Lewis wrote.
Early the morning of the following day, Jan. 30, Commissioner Michael Moran emailed the members of the state’s legislative delegation.
“Our Sarasota County Staff did not know this [state system] was launching until the press release [arrived],” Moran stressed.
“Your own STATE EMPLOYEE, Chuck Henry, that is our local DOH Rep did not know it was launching until the press release,” Moran added.
Yet, Moran continued, “The press release from Ms. Samantha Bequer at the Florida Division of Emergency Management said, ‘The state has been working closely with counties to ensure existing registration systems can coordinate with the statewide system.’ This is simply not factually correct when it comes to Sarasota County.”
Moran added, “I respectfully request a meeting with our Sarasota Delegation to discuss the obvious communication gap.”
On its homepage, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has posted a notification that the county registration system is independent of the state’s. “Registering in the state database DOES NOT ENSURE that you will receive a vaccine in Sarasota County — at this time,” the notification points out, with emphasis.