Like thousands of people throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties, Shannon and Bob Gault have experienced problems trying to schedule their COVID-19 vaccinations online.
The Longboat Key couple are both in their mid-70s and compared the process to a classic “Peanuts” comic strip dilemma. “It’s Lucy and the football,” Shannon Gault said after unsuccessfully trying to sign up multiple times.
Sarasota and Manatee counties started to receive doses at the beginning of the month as they follow state orders to vaccinate front-line medical workers and residents 65 and older.
So far, the supply of COVID-19 vaccines has not met the demand. Florida Department of Health administrator Chuck Henry estimated there are about 150,000 Sarasota County residents age 65 and older compared with around 5,000 initial doses delivered to the county.
“It’s pretty frustrating and I can imagine if I [were] five or 10 years older, I’d be having more trouble figuring out what to do,” Bob Gault said.
Longboat Key Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said he had a similar experience when trying to sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Haycock said he's signed up for text alerts for appointment availability but still came up empty after 90 minutes on his computer.
“The process is extremely frustrating and I can imagine many of our citizens are not going to go through that process and therefore they’re not going to get the vaccine anytime soon,” Haycock said.
The troubles have prompted Manatee County to change the format of its sign-up process.
“The difference between what has happened this week compared to last week is that Manatee County has a lottery system that they’re doing,” Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said.
Dezzi is helping coordinate the town’s response to the pandemic.
Anyone 65 or older wanting to receive a vaccination in Manatee County can call 311 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays to ask for help in joining the vaccine standby pool. When a new shipment of vaccines arrive, the county will pull random names of people who have pre-registered to help them book an appointment.
As of Monday morning, Sarasota County does not offer a lottery system like Manatee County. However, that could change soon.
Dezzi said the town of Longboat Key has asked both Manatee and Sarasota counties for a vaccination site on the island.
“The issue is we don’t know how many vaccines they’re going to get and what other locations are going to be set up, and so the Health Department wants to make sure that they do it equally and not just segregate one location,” Dezzi said. “Both health departments are aware and are willing, it’s just the number of vaccines that we have that we’ll be able to get, and that’s a concern.”
Plus, each county would need to provide the medical personnel to administer the vaccine.
The Gaults say they would like to see several drive-thru clinics set up throughout the area.
“It just occurred to me, as we just read, that they're going to start work on [the] Gulfstream [Avenue] and U.S. 41. roundabout in February, and that can really impact us getting on or off the island,” Shannon Gault said.
Sarasota County administrator Jonathan Lewis sent an email to county commissioners on Jan. 8, indicating no new doses will be arriving this week, though Sarasota Memorial Hospital successfully vaccinated about 3,000 people over the weekend using its own stock of Moderna vaccines.Those appointments were exhausted about 15 minutes after opening.
Dezzi and the town’s firefighters recently received their first shot as part of the two-shot Moderna vaccine. Police officers in town were not vaccinated.
For the foreseeable future, Dezzi said the town’s first responders are going to continue using personal protective equipment when responding to 911 calls.
“We’re going to continue to do exactly what we’re doing now, and I know that’s a question a lot of firefighters and paramedics have asked, ‘Do we shove the gear out even if we have the vaccination?’” Dezzi said. “And, we’re going to continue to do that until proven otherwise.”