By Jessica Simmons
Southwest Florida counties have begun rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in December, and this has not been without some hiccups. The biggest issue so far is that there aren’t enough doses to go around.
Residents have objected to out of state tourists obtaining vaccine appointments in Florida. Governor DeSantis has stated that he has no objection to seasonal residents or “snowbirds” getting their shots in Florida but intends to restrict access to prevent tourists from being vaccinated here.
However, it’s unclear how that could be enforceable. The vaccine program is a federal one, with no mechanism to turn anyone away based on state residency.
In Lee County, the vaccine appointments are booked through a phone system initially overwhelmed with calls. They have since added staff and thus the capability to handle more calls.
However, the appointments continue to fill up within minutes of opening the phone lines. The officials who operate the Lee vaccination site near the RSW airport say that they can vaccinate many more people per day than they have but can’t obtain any more vaccine doses.
There has been some objection to the amount of vaccine available to Collier County compared to Charlotte County. This was explained by the fact that Collier County has a larger overall number of residents over 65. Still, some have countered that Charlotte County has a higher percentage of the population are seniors.
Currently, regardless of location, the vaccine is only available to seniors over 65, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, healthcare workers who have direct contact with patients, and people “deemed to be extremely vulnerable” by healthcare providers (https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/covid-19-vaccines-in-florida/).
Lee County periodically announces openings of its phone lines for appointments based on the arrival of new batches of vaccine. The appointments fill up very quickly, but officials ask people not to call before the announced time they will be open. The lines are currently closed, but you can monitor announcements for new openings here:
Charlotte County reports that all vaccine appointments are currently full, but you can sign up for updates by texting CharCoCares to 888-777 or visiting http://charlotte.floridahealth.gov/events/2021/01/CharlotteCOVID-19VaccineInfo.html for more information. When new appointments open, you can book them online through publix.com/covid-vaccine/florida.
The state of Florida is partnering with Publix pharmacies to distribute vaccines in multiple counties, including Collier. The appointments are fully booked at this time, but you can check back here: https://www.publix.com/covid-vaccine/florida.
Hendry County Emergency Management reports that the Hendry/Glades Health Department does not have vaccines at this time. When they become available, “the plan is to offer vaccinations by appointment only at the Health Departments in Hendry and Glades Counties.” With dates being announced upon the availability of doses. Residents are encouraged to continue monitoring their website for updates. https://www.hendryfla.net/emergency_management.php