New Polk Hotline for COVID-19 Vaccines Launches Friday at 8 a.m.

The Florida Department of Health is activating a Polk County “COVID-19 vaccine hotline” Friday at 8 a.m. The hotline will be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and residents 65 and older will be able to call (863) 298-7500 to make a reservation for vaccinations.

A limited number of appointments will be available next week, according to a news release. “Once those initial appointments are filled, callers 65 years old and older can be placed on a registration list for a future vaccine appointment, as additional vaccine becomes available,” the news release said.

The hotline is a joint initiative of the Florida Department of Health’s Polk County office and Polk County government; it will be operated from the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

Check updates on vaccine distribution in other Central Florida counties: ABC Action News | Fox 13 News

Around 19 employees will answer phones when the hotline kicks off on Friday, according to Jeremy Maready, Polk’s public information officer. The system can handle up to 46 calls at a time, so some people will be placed on hold, while others will likely get busy signals.

“We can take in a lot of calls but be patient because there’s a high demand and only so much to go around,” he said.

The phone bank at the Emergency Operations Center handled a large volume of calls last year when the county was taking calls about the Polk Cares COVID-19 relief programs, he noted.

Polk County Commission Chairman Rick Wilson noted that demand for the vaccine has been high and “we want to make sure we have the resources necessary to meet that demand.”

Seniors in Polk have expressed frustration that it’s been difficult to get through to a previous Health Department phone line set up for vaccine appointments. The phone system went down Monday when it was overloaded with calls from residents trying to reserve one of the approximately 250 slots available this week.

In Polk, 6,314 people have received vaccinations, according to today’s update from the Florida Department of Health. Many of those doses were given to residents at staff at nursing homes. In addition, Lakeland Regional Medical Center is vaccinating staff members who come into with COVID-19 patients.

As of Wednesday afternoon, agencies in Polk had received 18,350 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, The Ledger reported in an article that listed the agencies that received them. Many of them went to hospitals, which used them to vaccinate front-line workers, and Walgreen’s and CVS, which are contracted to dispense them in nursing homes.

The Health Department is dispensing vaccines this week to residents of two 55+ communities: Cypress Lakes, a golf community on U.S. 98 North, and the Hamptons Golf & Country Club in Auburndale. Both have Community Emergency Response Teams and are the only communities in Polk to have received that designation, which includes training that allows them to become “points of distribution,” The Ledger reported.

At Cypress Lakes, 1,410 people are registered to receive vaccines over three days, ABC Action News reported.

Polk ranks 20th among Florida’s 67 counties in the number of people vaccinated, even though it’s the ninth most populous county.

Polk County commissioners earlier this week started showing impatience with the slow vaccine rollout here and the level of communication.

“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,” commission chair Rick Wilson said during a commission meeting.

Added Commissioner George Lindsey: “Silence, not conveying the plan, is not an acceptable course of action.” 

In response, Dr. Jackson told News Channel 8, “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.”