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Lee Health COVID-19 vaccine reservations already booked, officials expect more to arrive this week

By CJ HADDAD - | Jan 4, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED BY LEE HEALTH

All 5,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available to qualifying members of the public via a county phone reservation system were booked within an hour of the number going live Monday at noon.

County officials at a press conference Monday afternoon said they expect more vaccine to be available this week and will continue to use the phone reservation system. The county on Sunday announced its new reservation system and single vaccination site for those 65 plus and frontline health care workers. The location is east of Interstate 75 off of Daniels Parkway and the site of the old airport terminal parking lot.

“We anticipated the demand would exceed the supply, and it did,” said Department of Health – Lee County Administrator Angela Smith. “We know many callers experienced frustration and many did not secure appointments. We are rolling out this reservation system so that the safety and welfare of our seniors is front-of-mind.

“More vaccine will be coming from the state to Lee County and plans for the next vaccinations will be coming soon. We’re currently scheduled to receive additional vaccines this week and will open slots when that occurs.”

Smith said those who were able to secure appointments will be vaccinated this week and that the county is currently in the process of scheduling those immunizations.

Officials said lines were inundated with those looking to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Initial analytics courtesy of county officials show that within the first 30 minutes of the phone line going live, there was an average of 50,000 calls per minute, with a peak call volume of 84,000 calls per minute.

“We took an overwhelming amount of calls and as soon as we had enough to schedule for this week, the call system went to a busy system and a deferment to tell you all scheduled appointments are being booked,” said Daniel Craig, CEO of Tidal Basin, the vendor hired to handle the anticipated call volume. “Everybody that got in for those 5,000 calls were put into a queue. We have more than 100 operators scheduling their reservations throughout the day.”

Craig said it would take most of Monday to schedule all 5,000 appointments, with each taking roughly five minutes to book. Those in the queue on hold can continue to wait or asked to be called back, officials said. He said they received “tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands” of calls.

“One thing we do want to stress (is) do not hang up unless you have (asked to be called back) and to answer the phone if you receive a call,” Craig said. “If you do not answer the phone call when you receive it, you will be dropped from the queuing system.”

Lee County District 4 Commissioner Brian Hamman said simply due to supply and demand, the number those wanting the vaccine will overwhelm the number of doses at the county’s disposal to start.

“Obviously this is a situation that many people who did not get through to get their vaccines today were disappointed and upset,” Hamman said. “Just based on the emails that we’re receiving in our office right now, the desperation that people have. They want this vaccine.

“We had 5,000 appointments (and) we had more than 200,000 people who wanted those appointments — the math just doesn’t work. Here’s the good news: More vaccine doses will be coming to Lee County. (Officials) are working round-the-clock to get vaccines to Lee County and into your arms so that you’ll be protected. Several thousand may open up again in another couple days, and you’ll have a chance to call in for that several thousand. This is the process we should expect to happen.”

When it comes to getting residents their second dose, Smith said they are awaiting guidance at the federal level, as the program is federally run.

“The instruction that we’ve been given is that we were not to hold back first doses — that the second doses were being held at the federal level to be deployed equitably in accordance with the allocation strategy for the first dose,” Smith said.

Those with reservations can expedite the process by visiting www.leegov.com/vaccine to read the Moderna vaccination information and to print and complete the consent form. Proper identification will be required at the vaccination site. Officials said to continue to watch the county website and social media accounts for the latest vaccination updates. The toll-free number, when live again, is 833-618-2001. The TTY number (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf), specifically for those users, is 787-522-5904.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday also announced further actions when it comes to getting the senior community and frontline health care works additional vaccines. His four new actions include expanding access to the vaccine with additional state-supported sites, deploying the vaccine to underserved communities, reinforcing vaccination efforts with additional staff and continuing to prioritize long-term care facility residents.

“Florida is putting Seniors First and I’m pleased to announce four new actions that will continue our proactive approach to offering the vaccine to Floridians 65 and older, as well our continued efforts to vaccinate frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents,” DeSantis said at a press conference at Orlando Health in Seminole County on Monday. “Partnerships with Florida hospitals remain critical to our efforts, but this alone is not enough to reach our vaccination goals.

“To that end, I am directing the Florida Division of Emergency Management to partner with the Florida Department of Health to identify additional sites to administer the vaccine and to be open 7 days per week, including the conversion of state-supported testing sites and partnerships with places of worship in underserved communities. I am also directing the Division to hire additional nurses to support these sites and accelerate vaccinations in Florida’s over 3,000 assisted living facilities. We will continue to build on these efforts in the coming weeks.”

Additional information regarding the locations of vaccination sites will be available in the coming days, according to DeSantis’ office.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj