With new information about COVID-19 vaccine distribution coming out daily, here are some updates on availability for Polk residents who are 65 and older:
The registration website created by the Florida Department of Health and Polk County government includes some updates aimed at giving people a better sense of how long it might be until they get a phone call offering an appointment.
People who have registered can log in to be reminded of the date and time they signed up and then return to the site’s home page to see how far along the Health Department is in setting appointments.
Operators are currently scheduling appointments for people who registered on Jan. 14,
If you registered on Jan. 14 or 15, it could still be a week or more before you get a call. Around 20,000 people registered those dates, the first two days online registration was available after jammed phone lines kept registration numbers lower.
Polk received 7,000 first doses this week, the same number as last week; of those, about 5,500 are being given to people on the registration list, according to Health Department spokeswoman Nicole Riley. The rest are going to senior and minority communities.
A chart on the website shows how many people signed up per day:
In addition to the Health Department, Polk’s allotment of vaccines is also being distributed by Lakeland Regional Health and BayCare hospitals. Because of that, county officials say phone calls for appointments can come from a variety of phone numbers so they advise people to answer all calls to avoid missing a call for an appointment.
That includes calls that come up on your phone as “potential spam.” Members of the Lakeland Business – Operation Face Mask Facebook group report that their phones identified legitimate vaccine appointment calls as potential junk.
Those who don’t pick up are typically called again the next day, Polk Management Services Director Todd Bond told county commissioners on Friday.
Around 70,000 people are on the Polk waiting list, Riley said. That represents more than half of county residents 65 or older, Bond told county commissioners.
So far, 37,095 people in Polk County have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The Watson Clinic opened a separate registration portal for its patients over 65 last week. However, that move got pushback from the County Commission, and the clinic announced on Facebook Tuesday that it will now be included in the county registration system.
Publix Super Markets
Publix has expanded the number of Florida counties where vaccines are being given in store pharmacies. Polk County is not included yet, but nearby Pasco and Pinellas were added this week.
Among the 19 Pasco locations, the closest to Lakeland are two each in Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel and one in Dade City. Vaccinations are being offered in 42 Pinellas stores. See lists here.
Publix typically offers two online registrations per week. The next one is Friday at 7 a.m. At that time, you can select a county at this website; if you’re one of the lucky one who gets through, you can then select a store in that county where supplies are available.
The St. Augustine Record provides a guide to Publix vaccine signups.
Publix will get separate vaccine allotments as part of the new Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Company spokesman Maria Brous confirmed to The Orlando Sentinel today that Publix would be participating but declined to comment further until the company has more information.
Winn-Dixie stores were also announced as part of the federal program, but company representatives have not yet announced plans for distributing the vaccines.
Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies are part of the federal program, and stores in Florida are expected to start distributing vaccines late next week, according to The Sentinel. The company’s registration portals will be at walmart.com/COVIDvaccine and for Sam’s Club members at samsclub.com/covid.
CVS and Walgreen’s are also part of the federal program, but The Sentinel reports Florida stores are not included in the initial rollout.
State of Florida
Polk County chose not to participate in the system, so it can’t be used to get local appointments. However, Polk residents who have applied through health departments in Lake and other counties that use the system have been able to get vaccines in those counties.
It is unclear whether Polk residents who sign up through the state system can get appointments at a small handful of state-supported vaccination sites, including one at University Square Mall in Tampa. A message at the end of the online and phone registration process says, “When additional vaccine appointments are available in your county, we will call you to schedule.”
An estimated 10% of Polk seniors who have received vaccinations have done so through programs offered by health departments in nearby counties. Check county-by-county information for the Tampa Bay area and beyond here and for Central Florida and beyond here.
Lakeland Regional Health was one of 27 hospitals in Florida splitting 28,500 doses from the state Department of Health for people who are “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19.
Lakeland Regional confirmed it received 1,000 doses, and CEO Danielle Drummond told the Ledger the hospital “is identifying individuals who meet CDC criteria for being medically vulnerable.” However, the hospital has not defined who those people are.
Some state lawmakers are urging Florida hospitals to be more transparent with information about which under-65 vulnerable patients are eligible for vaccines, News Channel 8 reports.
“A lot of people are still shut out not only because it’s a limited supply but because, frankly, hospitals have been a bit cagey about giving the public information about who’s eligible for a comorbidity younger than 65 and who is not,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando-area Democrat.
Lakeland Regional Health declined News Channel 8’s request for an interview, saying that appointments had been filled.
“Ultimately, there is more demand than supply available, and we hope to receive more vaccines in the near future so that we can accommodate more individuals who qualify for the vaccine,” wrote Danielle Drumond, LRH’s CEO.
AdventHealth, which has hospitals in Lake Wales and Haines City, received 500 doses of vaccine for patients under 65 considered high-risk. High priority was given to organ transplant, cancer and bone marrow transplant patients, a spokeswoman said.