Florida vaccinating seniors first, but it's not going well

As we’ve already seen, different states are handling the prioritization of groups receiving vaccinations in their own way. This has led to some serious confusion among both prospective recipients and healthcare providers, with at least one case resulting in pending criminal charges against a healthcare company that “jumped the line” in ordering and delivering vaccines. Most states are attempting to follow the CDC guidelines and rolling out the vaccines in stages to different groups. But in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis and many county health officials have been taking a different path. They wanted to vaccinate all of the frontline healthcare workers first, but after that, they prioritized senior citizens age 65 and up. That sounds like great news for the seniors, but the poorly-planned rollout hasn’t been going well at all thus far. (NBC News)

The decision to greenlight Covid-19 inoculations for senior citizens in Florida has spurred long lines at vaccination sites and a deluge of people crashing county computer systems and hospital phone banks to schedule their shots, experts said Thursday.

And it’s clear that the supply isn’t close to keeping up with the extraordinary demand.

Gov. Ron DeSantis “decided that Florida residents over the age of 65 would be given priority over essential workers,” Aubrey Jewett, a longtime Florida politics watcher and an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida, said in an email to NBC News.

This was no doubt both a political and practical decision for DeSantis. His state has the second-largest percentage of senior citizens in the country. (And not to put too fine of a point on this, but seniors tend to vote more reliably than all other age groups.) The Governor is clearly also responding to very high demand among those over the age of 65.

That high demand is really the cause of most of the problems they’re seeing, however. In Lee County, Florida, after the announcement of available vaccines was made, seniors bundled up in blankets and coats and were camped out outside of testing sites around the county. All of those sites quickly ran out of vaccines, leaving many of those residents frustrated at having spent the night in line for nothing. The County Manager told reporters that their “goal” was to have some sort of reservation system online in the next week or two.

In Broward County, officials actually did have a reservation system in place for both phone and internet booking. But when the vaccines arrived, the online system crashed almost immediately and the phone lines were so overloaded that people couldn’t get through. Those who did manage to speak to someone were told that all the reservations were booked through the end of February.

In Sarasota County, things weren’t much better. One resident told reporters that appointments were required, but the website they were directed to didn’t have a way for people to request appointments. Lines for requesting an appointment in person were too long for most people to manage.

The real question here isn’t why there were some issues with getting the vaccine distributed efficiently. That was to be expected. But why are we seeing so many places where there wasn’t even a functional system in place for people to try to gain access? They’ve had nearly a year to get ready for this. Everyone’s focus was on the development of functional vaccines and it’s been obvious for a while now that they were on the way. Was Florida simply taken by surprise when Moderna and Pfizer gained emergency approval? It sounds like they’re going to continue to try to vaccinate seniors on a first-come, first-served basis which is probably the best they can do. But almost nobody is happy about it at this point.