‘Silence is not acceptable’: Polk Co. commissioners voice frustration over lack of publicized vaccine plan

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Frustrations crept into a board of county commissioners meeting in Polk County regarding the lack of a publicized plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the general public, specifically seniors.

“I think it’s time for us to do something to get it widely disseminated,” said commissioner George Lindsey.

Lindsey and other commissioners said they were being criticized because little information has been shared publicly to direct Polk County residents to how and where they can get vaccinated.

“We’re just not hearing much,” said Ed Diaz, a Lakeland-based pastor. “I notice that on the news there are other counties that are up and running. People are getting in line to get the vaccination.”

Diaz said he has international travel planned for June and he will need to show he received the vaccine.

“I don’t mind when I get it as long as I know that it’s on the way,” he said. “I can wait a week. I can wait a month. I just have had no information from the county as to when I’ll be able to sign up, register, and get the vaccine forthcoming.”

Diaz, and other officials, take note that other Tampa Bay counties provide information online on how to sign up for the vaccine.

Many of those other rollouts have been hindered by technical difficulties, long lines and website crashes.

Due to the high demand for the vaccine, Polk County has faced similar challenges.

“Due to the significant increase of phone calls regarding the vaccine, our phone system is overwhelmed and shutting down,” the Dept. of Health in Polk County wrote in a press release Tuesday.

The Florida Department of Health in Polk County, which is in charge of distributing the vaccine to the general public, is a state-run agency, not county-run.

“The state of Florida and the Polk County health care is driving this bus. I’ve been beat up and beat down and everybody up here has about it,” said Rick Wilson, chair of the county commissioners.

“Silence, not conveying the plan, is not an acceptable course of action,” said commissioner Lindsey.

Dr. Joy Jackson, the director of the health department in Polk, said her department has focused on providing vaccines to senior living communities that already have the infrastructure in place.

As of Monday, more than 4,801 vaccines had been administered, according to the health department.

“The way we’re doing things may look a little differently than neighboring counties but we’re just as passionate about getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible. We have not had nearly enough vaccine for the tens of thousands of people who want it right now,” she said.

Commissioner Bill Braswell called it a “PR issue.”

“Right now this is not a reality issue because the vaccine’s not available. It’s a PR issue that we’re trying to deal with here. PR sounds like an ugly word sometimes but it’s confidence in the county, confidence in the system,” said Braswell.

The Dept. of Health in Polk County is hosting a vaccine event on Wednesday. All slots are already booked.

Registration will open on Friday for vaccination appointments next week, the Health Dept. announced Tuesday.

Details on how to register will be released soon, the announcement reads.

The Dept. of Health in Polk County is posting updates and information on its website.