By Jonathan Lord
The State of Florida, through its local Health Department, is distributing the Covid-19 vaccine to Flagler County residents, and has set up a vaccination site at the County Fairgrounds.
Flagler County, through its Emergency Management Office, made itself available to the Florida Department of Health-Flagler several months ago for any assistance they may require. The Health Department’s planning process included working with many local agencies/ organizations, developing a plan for the public vaccination process. This process built upon existing plans, modifying them to fit the CDC’s current vaccination phases and guidelines.
These phases prioritized smaller critical groups to be vaccinated first, especially since the initial supply of vaccine was extremely limited.
Approximately a week before the first vaccines for distribution to the public, were received, the Governor issued executive Order 20-315 that required the inclusion of all individuals 65 and older, along with healthcare workers. For Flagler County, this instantaneously added over 30 percent of the population all at once. Ways to subdivide the group were considered, but ultimately the approach would not have been allowed by the State. It will be many months before there is enough vaccine available in our community for those who want it from this group, or the population at large.
Additionally, vaccinations are not allowed to be limited to just those who reside in Flagler County. The process must be made available to people from other areas in the state on an equal basis.
On Monday (Jan. 4), following the first announcement that appointments were available, thousands of people attempted to get an appointment, which were all claimed in under 10 minutes. Later that afternoon we added more appointments, but in less than 5 minutes, before we could even announce them, they were all claimed.
The result of the massive demand for appointments was:
Every single one of our phone lines was tied up for hours. The phone system did not crash, we were just out of incoming phone lines and many people just kept repeatedly hitting redial. The County’s phone system has the capacity to meet every-day demands and foreseeable emergencies. It does not have capacity to serve the unprecedented demand we experienced this week. Previous high demand periods have consumed only about 40% of the system’s capacity. To add capacity to accommodate the demand experienced this week would, for all practical purposes, be cost prohibitive.
Eventbrite gave out all of its appointments in less than 10 minutes. The system did not crash, there just weren’t anymore appointments available. Some people had tickets in their carts that they could not check out with. This is because someone else grabbed those same tickets before the original person completed their check-out.
Many folks signed-up for our text alerts, but did not get a message. The majority of those issues we looked into were due to not texting the exact single word FLAGLERCOVID to 888-777. Others got the message too late. This is typically due to weak phone signals and/or phone network delays in delivering the message, both out of our control.
Every County in Florida is having similar issues, some to a lesser extent than us (typically those with many more resources than your County government has).
So what have we learned from this experience:
Many ways of offering appointments have been explored, each with benefits as well as a drawbacks to different parts of our populace.
For some people the online system is perfect, appointments can be made in seconds. However for others, web-based ticketing is not something they have used before, or internet access is not even available.
For some people calling us is the best way. For others the slower process of making a phone call is not feasible, and for the county is the most resource intensive.
Many feel a waiting list is best. However, others view that as an unfair advantage to someone who may have more free time to call and request to be on a list.
Even though it takes a lot of resources, all three of these options are being offered, with no single option having a priority over the others. Our “waiting list” will be a call back list, in which we promise to call back over the coming months as vaccines are available. The number of people called back will be based on a subset of the available vaccines, each time they are delivered.
The drug companies are working as fast as possible to manufacture more vaccine.
The State is working on a robust Statewide Appointment System that we are hoping will be online next week. This system will accommodate phone as well as online appointments. This allows the entity that controls the vaccine (the State) to also manage the appointments.
However, this does not mean that we will stop supporting the state-led vaccination efforts. We will continue to provide equipment, staff, and volunteers. We will keep the call-center open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., so that we can augment the state call center and continue to help our residents make appointments as they are made available by the state.
At this time, we do not know when more vaccines will be available in Flagler County, nor do we know how many we will get. The only thing we know for sure is that it will be many months before there is enough vaccine for everyone. Over the coming months, there will be additional vaccination options, to include clinics, physicians’ offices, and pharmacies.
Please rest assured that we are doing our best with the resources that we have. We are doing so in a manner that ensures that we remain good stewards of your tax dollars and local government resources, as we support the State in its vaccination efforts.
There is an amazing team of staff and volunteers bending over backwards to serve our community.
Caution! We have received multiple reports of a fake vaccine appointment website. Please make sure you are only using the appointment link found at www.FlaglerCounty.org/covid, when appointments are available. Please do not trust any other links.
Jonathan Lord, a member of the Board of the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association, was appointed emergency management director in Flagler County in January 2018.