Dear Gov. DeSantis and Sumter County Health Department Administrator Zelnick:
As important as is the allocation of vaccine to various Florida counties is the necessity of a plan to EFFICIENTLY get the vaccine into the arms of residents. It would seem that the Florida Department of Health headquarters should formulate such a plan so that each of its county health departments does not have to reinvent the wheel. Such a plan should include an on-line system of registration for vaccination, using appropriate software.
We have had three initial debacles in Sumter County in distributing the vaccine.
- The first debacle was political insiders connected to the Developer of The Villages cutting the vaccination line—resulting in their getting vaccinated ahead of more-deserving residents, such as health-care workers. See https://www.villages-news.com/2020/12/22/developer-linked-villagers-receive-covid-19-vaccines-during-desantis-press-conference/
- The second debacle was the County Health Department’s utilizing a single phone line, instead of the internet, for 140,000 people to register for a limited number of vaccinations — resulting in chaos. https://www.villages-news.com/2021/01/04/early-morning-speed-dialers-strike-out-in-quest-for-covid-19-vaccine/
- The third debacle was the County Health Department’s finally utilizing the internet for vaccination registration– but including no software to ensure that the limited supply got to the most-vulnerable people first– instead utilizing a first-registered/first-vaccinated system. See https://www.villages-news.com/2021/01/06/sumter-county-online-vaccine-appointments-snapped-up-within-17-minutes/ .
I hope that the state Department of Health headquarters will soon formulate a comprehensive plan for mass vaccinations (when adequate vaccine becomes available). That plan should include answers to questions such as the following:
- Exactly who should register, as the vaccine arrives in phases, and what relevant information should they provide (e.g., date of birth, underlying medical problems)?
- Is there a phone number for those without internet access to call so that someone at their county health department can register them on its website?
- How will the registrants be prioritized for receipt of the vaccine? I would suggest by age (after health-care workers and nursing-home and hospital patients)– with the oldest (highest risk of death) being first, and then working down through age groups. But there may be a better system. Certainly, utilizing a first-registered/first-vaccinated makes no sense in terms of saving lives.
- How will registrants be notified of the time and place of their first AND second vaccination?
- What steps are being taken so that there will be no long lines?
- What is the procedure at the vaccination center(s) for both the administration of the vaccine and watching for, and treating, possible adverse reactions?
- Will some vaccines be given to cancer centers for vaccination of cancer patients? To medical practices for vaccination of high-risk patients? To CVS and Walgreens and how will they prevent long lines and vaccinate persons in order of priority?
- When do you anticipate that more vaccine will be available and in what quantities?
I have neither the expertise nor the data to formulate such a comprehensive vaccination plan, but hopefully the Florida Department of Health does and will formulate such a plan in the near future.
I am copying our Sumter County Commissioners on this email. I understand that they do not control the local County Health Department, but they do provide funding for it. Thus, they are in a position to encourage it do better in the future and to demand an explanation as to why the cronies of the Villages Developer were permitted to cut the vaccination line and as to whether anyone else was also permitted to do so.
My above letter was emailed to the Governor and the Sumter County Health Department on January 7. It has now been overtaken by events:
After I criticized the Sumter County Health Department for its three debacles, it gave us a fourth debacle when it required tens of thousands of residents to again waste time fruitlessly vying for a tiny number of inoculations on January 10 and 11—again using a computer program apparently designed for selling tickets to rock concerts and other events.
The good news is that the County Health Department has, as suggested in my letter, apparently now adopted a software program designed for inoculation registration on a large scale. The bad news is that that program and its implementation has turned into a fifth debacle. Hopefully, the software is, in fact, the best available. However, the registration website is user unfriendly. It requires some computer users to shift their screen to the right when they hit a dead end in the registration process—if they can figure out how to continue. The website also requires a photograph of your insurance card (which one?)– something a lot of older folks probably don’t know how to upload. Furthermore, the site collects sensitive information: SS#, exact birth date (rather than simply the year), and insurance data. None of that is necessary when simply booking inoculation appointments.
To top it off, the Daily Sun published an incorrect URL for the registration website. Then, upon finally finding the website, a number of people were so put off by its intrusiveness that they thought it was a scam and refused to register. In fact, the Health Department has had to post a notice on its own website vouching for the authenticity of the registration website.
The bright side of all this is that the new registration system, with all its flaws, is way ahead of where we were a few weeks ago, with the Developer’s cronies cutting the inoculation line and a single phone line for inoculation registration. However, the County Health Department urgently needs to flesh out AND PUBLICIZE plans to get two doses of the vaccine into people’s arms on a massive scale.
Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of the Village of Winifred.