Senior living community residents get vaccinated in Polk Co. while thousands remain on waitlist

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As tens of thousands of people wait to hear news about a vaccination appointment in Polk County, hundreds of others are seeing the vaccines come to them in their senior living communities.

“For them to get this for us and the health department here in Polk County, it’s so organized,” said Linda Castor, a resident at Beacon Terrace in Lakeland. “You just feel like your life is going to open up so it’s wonderful.”

Castor tells 8 On Your Side she did not call the Florida Department of Health in Polk County’s vaccine call center because she knew her homeowner’s association was organizing a coronavirus vaccine event on property.

“Most of them are afraid to go out, they get their groceries delivered, things like that. When the opportunity came up, and we had heard a few other parks had been able to do it, I immediately called the Department of Health,” said Donald Kohnke, the president of the Beacon Terrace Homeowners’ Association.

Kohnke said he began coordinating with the health department and went door to door collecting information from residents and scheduling their appointments.

On Friday, 270 doses were administered to residents of the 55+ community.

“I’m very happy. I feel much safer. I really do. I can’t wait for my second shot,” said Doug Patterson, a resident.

“I feel safer already because it’s going to work and I’m not as scared as I was,” said Millicent Sleeth, a resident.

When it first started receiving the coronavirus vaccines, the Dept. of Health in Polk County opted to coordinate mass vaccinations at senior living communities.

As it has grown a waitlist of roughly 40,000 residents from its hotline and web portal, it has begun hosting public events by appointment.

Still, it continues to assist with vaccination events like the one held at Beacon Terrace Friday.

“We have working relationships with communities who have requested our assistance in vaccinating their residents who are outlined in the executive order. Working to vaccinate residents on this list, while also working with communities, allows us to administer vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible to all of those who meet criteria in our county,” wrote Nicole Riley, Dept. of Health in Polk County spokesperson in a statement.

“I don’t like it,” said Ron Tomlin, 72, who lives in Lakeland. “Why have a process if you’re going to go around the process?

Tomlin said he registered for the vaccine online.

He has friends who gave up after calling the COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center (863-298-7500) dozens of times.

“Maybe they’re going to argue it’s more efficient than a larger group of people but it isn’t fair to those of us who have signed up,” he said.

The Dept. of Health spokesperson tells 8 On Your Side the department is focused mainly on chipping away at the growing list of older adults who have signed up over the phone or online.

This weekend, it plans to administer the last of the 5,500 doses it received this week.

It expects to receive 7,000 more doses next week.

It announced this week it is partnering with local hospitals to help administer those vaccines.

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