‘Horrible experience’: Pinellas County residents frustrated with COVID-19 vaccine appointment rollout, registrations halted

Coronavirus

REDINGTON SHORES, Fla. (WFLA) – Annoyed, discouraged and disappointed are just a few of the words that residents all around the Tampa Bay area are using to explain the experience of trying to make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

The websites for Pinellas County and Hillsborough County launched Monday but, after hours of trying, many remain without appointments.

Several residents told 8 On Your Side hours were “wasted” trying to secure an appointment without success. By evening, the county health department in Pinellas announced it had suspended registrations by phone and online.

Lynn Wecker of Redington Shores was one of many who were seeking an appointment Monday. The former University of South Florida medical professor didn’t get to work on the 7th edition of her book because she spent hours trying to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for herself.

“It’s about how drugs work and why they do what they do for diseases,” Wecker said of her new book.


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At first Wecker said she was trying to figure out where to go when the site launched at noon.

“I just kept calling and calling…from 8:57 this morning, until 11:24 a.m.,” she said.

At 12:01 p.m., she had a glimmer of hope.

“Okay, I’m in!” she exclaimed.

But with websites and phone lines jammed, emotions quickly changed.

“It’s now 12:13 p.m., I haven’t stopped on my MAC, PC – using several browsers – and phone to register for the vaccine to no avail,” Wecker said.

She’s definitely not alone. A frustrated viewer sent us a screenshot saying he tried calling the Florida Department of Health 147 times to secure an appointment with no success.

“It’s horrible. This is a horrible experience,” said Shonda Florence.

Florence spent the day trying to get an appointment for her 90-year-old client. Frustrated with technology, the private health care worker showed up in person at the Department of Health in Largo and was turned away, told she had to use the phone or computer to make the appointment.

“We’ve wasted hours! Hours and hours,” Florence said.

“I’m disgusted with the Florida Dept. of Health,” Wecker said.

8 On Your Side called the Department of Health in Pinellas for a better understanding of why the issues were occurring but, as of this publication, had not heard back.

The department posted on Twitter at 12:27 p.m. saying, “Our office is aware of the website issues.” By 12:58 p.m., the account tweeted, “The website appears to be back up and running”.

“Error, error, error,” said Wecker, who continued trying to get through.

After accepting defeat for now, Wecker said life must move forward.

“I guess I’ll just stay around the house, wear a mask when I go anywhere and stay away from people,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

For those 65 and older who could get an appointment, COVID-19 vaccinations begin Tuesday at the three health department locations in Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Pinellas County residents can contact the health department at (727) 824-6900 or call their COVID-19 call center at 866-779-6121. To register for an appointment, they should visit the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County website and follow instructions.

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