‘It Became Sort of Lawless’: Florida Vaccine Rollout Turns Into a Free-for-All

177
‘It Became Sort of Lawless’: Florida Vaccine Rollout Turns Into a Free-for-All

Florida decided people 65 and older should get the coronavirus vaccine first. But demand has overwhelmed supply, and people are frustrated. Well prepared for a long wait, people queued up to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at the Fort Myers Stars Complex in Fort Myers, Fla., last week.Octavio Jones for The New York Times MIAMI — Linda Kleindienst Bruns registered for a coronavirus vaccine in late December, on the first day the health department in Tallahassee, Fla., opened for applications for people her age. Despite being 72, with her immune system suppressed by medication that keeps her breast cancer in remission, she spent days waiting to hear back about an appointment.

“It’s so disorganized,” she said. “I was hoping the system would be set up so there would be some sort of logic to it.”

Phyllis Humphreys, 76, waited with her husband last week in a line of cars in Clermont, west of Orlando, that spilled onto Highway 27. They had scrambled into their car and driven 22 miles after receiving an automated text message saying vaccine doses were available. But by 9:43 a.m., the site had reached capacity and the Humphreys went home with no shots.

“We’re talking about vaccinations,” said Ms. Humphreys, a retired critical care nurse. “We are not talking about putting people in Desert Storm.”

Florida is in an alarming new upward spiral, with nearly 20,000 cases of the virus reported on Friday and more than 15,000 on Saturday. But the state’s well-intended effort to throw open the doors of the vaccine program to everyone 65 and older has led to long lines, confusion and disappointment.

States across the country, even as they race to finish vaccinating health care employees, nursing home residents and emergency workers, are under pressure from residents to reach a broader section of the public. Florida, which has already prioritized a large swath of its population to receive the vaccine, illustrates the challenges of expanding a vaccination program being developed at record speed and with limited federal assistance.

“How do you do something this huge and roll it out?” said Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch, the chairman of the behavioral sciences and social medicine department at Florida State University. “It’s not in any way surprising — to anyone who followed it closely, for sure — that there would be halting kind of progress and missteps getting something of this magnitude underway initially, whether we’re talking about Florida or the entire country.”

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend giving the next priority after the earliest groups to essential workers and people 75 and older. Some states, including Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Hawaii, decided to vaccinate people 65 and older, even before essential workers, and other states are following suit.

But with states and counties left to largely sort out logistics by themselves, the rollout has gone anything but smoothly.

People camped out overnight in the Florida winter chill in Fort Myers and Daytona Beach for vaccines administered on a first-come-first-served basis, a spectacle that made national headlines. Health department […]