Sign-Up Website, Call Center, Collaborative Committee, Town Halls Are Part Of Alachua County’s Vaccination Strategy. Is It Enough?

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Update, Feb. 11, 2021: Stephanie Miller was previously skeptical of the county’s efforts. Miller had signed up to be vaccinated twice, receiving no confirmation of vaccination.

Last week, Miller was vaccinated and said the process was easy.

“I was amazed that it went like clockwork,” Miller said.

She said that despite a little soreness, the vaccination was painless. Her appointment was from 10:40 to 11 a.m. and she was finished by 11:02 a.m.

“The efficiency was just stunning all the way around,” she said.

In addition, Miller said, “I’m so glad Alachua County decided to manage its own vaccinations rather than go with the Governor’s system, which is not going nearly as smoothly. Hats off to UF for managing this for all of us.”

Original story, Jan. 28: Stephanie Miller lives in Alachua County, has comorbidities and despite having signed up twice to get vaccinated, she has yet to receive the call that will ease her fears.

“I’m scared. If you miss the call, you are sent to the bottom of the list all over again,” said Miller, 70.

This has been a fear for many, including some of the callers during a Monday town hall that the county organized.

The leader of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County tried to ease that concern.

“If you miss that first call,” Paul Myers said, “you absolutely are not put to the back of the line. I know there have been several media outlets that have reported that. That is not true. We continue to try to call you back.”

In addition, Myers stated that the county is working to set up an online appointment system that is currently being tested.

The website will allow county residents to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s expected to be live for the public in the next few weeks, but might not be a panacea for the vaccine rollout, though, as other Florida communities like Marco Island have seen technical troubles due to overwhelming demand on their sites.

Carl Smart, assistant county manager for public safety and community service, said the county is also implementing a vaccine call center within the next few weeks.

Still, Miller is unsatisfied with the progress to date.

“I think Alachua County has done terribly poor in the distribution of vaccines,” said Miller.

Miller said that despite her age and her comorbidities, there have been no opportunities for her to receive a vaccine.

“My husband and I have self-quarantined since March 17 ,and it seems to me that by now we would be able to get a vaccine,” she said.

Data gathered from the Florida Department of Health reflects the number of COVID-19 vaccines distributed from week 1 to week 4 since the availability of the vaccine. (Aeja Pinto/WUFT News)

Dr. Michael Lauzardo, chief of the division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine and associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, said that although Alachua County is ranked first in Florida in vaccine distribution per capita, the county is continuing to work toward expanding its efforts.

One option that some Florida seniors have explored: visiting a neighboring county to get in their potentially more efficient vaccine queue.

That’s a dicey proposition, though, as Lauzardo said every county has regulations and is prioritizing its own residents.

“I have been quarantined for so long and the thought of having to leave my county to go somewhere else is going far outside of my comfort zone,” Miller said.

Moreover, Miller expressed concern for North Florida Regional Medical Center and East Gainesville.

According to the town hall, UF Health Shands has given 27,000 vaccines and North Florida Regional Medical Center has vaccinated over 3,000 health care workers and has exhausted its first dose supply.

Smart said the county is doing everything it can to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines.

Smart said Alachua County is reaching out to groups, including several churches and pastors in East Gainesville, to promote vaccination and implement vaccine distribution centers.

Of Gainesville’s underprivileged communities, Lauzardo said, “We need to think of those at-risk populations, look at those individuals that historically we have neglected, medicine has neglected and society has neglected and reach out and give them an equal opportunity and chance to make a decision for themselves about getting the vaccine.”

He said the current efforts, including speaking tours, town halls and facetime live events that have targeted groups in East Gainesville, will be expanded in the coming days.

“You can rest assured that we will not rest until we get everybody the access that they deserve,” Lauzardo said.

Lauzardo said UF Health has started a vaccine access committee in cooperation with the county health department. Its goal: Implement the community’s suggestions into the overall vaccination rollout plans, with a particular focus on distribution through UF Health and into East Gainesville.

“We don’t want to do it in a vacuum,” he said.

The committee had its first meeting Friday and will eventually hold an open forum.

Lauzardo cautioned that the process of getting everyone who wants to be vaccinated their doses will likely continue to be prolonged.

“This is a war,” he said, “not a street fight.”

About Aeja Pinto

Aeja is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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