COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been characterized by insufficient supply, confusion and arbitrary distribution methods. Floridians continue to search for a location and appointment to receive the vaccine.
In Palm Beach County, most vaccines are distributed through Publix. Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., announced a partnership with the grocery chain several weeks ago.
“Florida thanks Publix for their willingness to step up and lend their infrastructure to this critical cause,” DeSantis said.
The goal of the partnership was to provide seniors with easier access to vaccines in their local communities. However, critics have noted that residents in rural areas of Palm Beach County are left in a vaccine-less desert. They do not have a Publix that provides the vaccine within reasonable driving distance.
While 90% of Palm Beach County seniors live less than 1.5 miles from a Publix, there is no distinction made between locations with or without a pharmacy. Only Publix locations with a pharmacy can administer the vaccine.
“The emergency management systems in each county should have been charged with handling the distribution, because we know our communities best,” said County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. “Make no mistake about it, it puts our rural communities at a further disadvantage.”
In Palm Beach County, 67 Publix locations have the capacity to administer up to 125 doses per day.
An additional challenge is the fact that Publix only books appointments online. Website crashes and quick filling appointments have caused confusion among seniors seeking to receive their shot.
Because appointments cannot be made by phone or in person, residents who lack internet access are unable to make an appointment at Publix.
In response to the claims of inequity with vaccine distribution at Publix, there have been announcements of additional vaccination sites in Palm Beach County. The South Florida Fairgrounds opened a mass vaccination site on Feb. 10.
As part of the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, more pharmacies will soon be distributing vaccines. Starting on Feb. 12, 119 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations in Florida began administering COVID-19 vaccines. Winn Dixie started providing vaccines on Feb. 11.
Approximately 30% of Florida seniors have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. Still, this leaves millions scrambling to find appointments.
Some Palm Beach County residents are so desperate to get the vaccine that they have sought out loopholes.
Seniors are sharing information with each other to spread awareness about where they can go to get their shot. Frustrated with the challenging task of securing an appointment, they are relying on word of mouth to find a vaccine location.
The Facebook group South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info has garnered over 23,000 members. Florida couple Katherine Quirk and Russ Schwartz started the group to help people in the community. Members have posted thousands of comments about where to get the vaccine or advice on securing an appointment.
A major issue for vaccine distributors is figuring out an efficient way to make use of leftover vaccines. Overflow vaccines commonly result from people who make different appointments at multiple locations but fail to cancel the appointment they do not use.
Broward Health has created a standby list of patients who can be called in to receive extra vaccines if there are any. If there are still leftovers after standby patients have been contacted, vaccines are given to frontline workers.
Still, people continue to physically show up to vaccine locations with the hopes that they will be given a leftover dose.
As of now, Florida continues to prioritize medical personnel and adults ages 65 and older. Until vaccine supply increases, there’s not much for Floridians to do other than to wait and pay close attention to their county’s Health Department.
Featured image: Publix Supermarket. Unmodified photo by qwesy qwesy used under a Creative Commons license. (http://bit.ly/2Rl85k1)
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