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When Neil Rosenberg, 76, heard that COVID-19 vaccines would be available to everyone 65 and older in Florida, he pulled into high gear trying to get a vaccination appointment. He called his county public health department and searched for information online but was met with busy signals and crashing county public health websites. “I cried in frustration,” he said.
He learned from the news on TV that shots were being offered through the county health department at Vista View Park in Davie, not too far from Kings Point, the Broward County retirement community where he lives with his wife, Susan.
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Kings Point managed to get vaccines on the community campus earlier than his appointment at Vista View Park, so he signed up for one.
"I tried and tried to get through to the other site to cancel but couldn't,” Rosenberg says. “I'm sure the dose didn't go to waste, but I feel guilty."
These days Rosenberg is helping friends and family who are having trouble navigating the vaccination process in Florida, the first state to offer COVID-19 vaccines to adults age 65-plus. Governor Ron DeSantis bucked federal recommendations to limit the vaccination to those 75 and older, after nursing home residents and staff and frontline health care workers. Today more states are following Florida's lead. The federal government this week urged states everywhere to open vaccines to those 65 and older.
So, Rosenberg's advice now applies to Americans beyond Florida. “You can't wait until it's in the paper or on the news,” he says. “If you do, all the doses will be gone."
Florida's vaccine rollout has been chaotic. The governor and county officials have blamed each other for the failures that included national news of wealthy out-of-staters, known as COVID tourists, allegedly getting shots at nursing homes or elsewhere, skipping ahead of residents.
Florida has received nearly 2 million doses of vaccine but has administered less than half, about 775,000 so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among all states, Florida ranks 23rd in the percentage of vaccines administered.
Pictures of long lines of Florida older adults on scooters, or in wheelchairs, walkers or folding chairs, waiting for hours in the unaccustomed chilly winter air, have surfaced in the national news in recent weeks. And even as more vaccines are available and more vaccination sites open up, getting an appointment is still difficult.