In December the state opened up COVID-19 vaccination for frontline healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and seniors.
Florida is home to 4.5 million people aged 65 and older and, with seniors making up 80 percent of COVID-19 related deaths, it’s no surprise that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made this group a priority.
As of January 30, 75,272 residents have been vaccinated in Pinellas, according to the county website. With much-publicized website crashes and vaccine shortages, for many, getting the vaccine has been a story of persistence.
However, even with positive cases over 1.7 million and COVID deaths nearing 27,000 in the state, for some, the fear of the vaccine is worse than the disease.
Close to Home, Side-Effect Free
St. Petersburg senior Elizabeth Reed struggled with making an appointment through the online portal when she first attempted on January 4, but with persistence and the help of a friend, she got through in mid-January, received her first shot and is side-effect free.
“The entire website crashed within a minute. It was frustrating to say the least,” Reed said. “But stick it out. It was painless and now I feel like I’ve won the lottery.”
Reed, like many seniors, received the vaccine at USF Health Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care in Tampa. There are four vaccination sites in Pinellas, and after users successfully register, they receive location details.
“Once you get through, it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Reed said. “I had a little soreness in my shoulder the night after, but that was it.”
Following the technical difficulties on the Pinellas Department of Health website, the CDR Maguire: Health & Medical portal was created, allowing for a much smoother registration process.
“The whole vaccination process took 15 minutes for me,” St. Petersburg senior Jan Wampler said. “I didn’t even notice when the nurse jabbed me.”
The state requires those with appointments to bring a proof of residency as well as a vaccination confirmation they receive virtually.
“Some people do have reactions, but most people really don’t,” Wampler said. “It’s worth it, and the entire process is so clean and organized – they did a really good job keeping everyone distanced and sterile at the USF campus.”
How it Works
According to the Pinellas County Website, all vaccine appointment slots are currently filled – a familiar story for those who have been trying to get an appointment for weeks.
Nonetheless, residents who fit the criteria should make an account to “ease future scheduling.”
Once you create an account, it’s a waiting game to sign up for a vaccination, with appointments opening as more vaccines become available. Pinellas County sends out regular alerts when appointments will be available. There is also no rule that says Pinellas residents must vaccinate in Pinellas, and some have found better luck in other counties.
Persistence, Reed says, is key.
“This is a two step process – a lot of people don’t know that,” Reed said.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are only effective in a two-dose shot, with the injections scheduled within 21 days of each other. Patients receive a second vaccine date following their first injection.
According to University of Florida Health, “When you receive the vaccine, your immune system starts to ward off COVID-19. This can cause some side effects. The majority of patients have had mild side effects.”
While some side effects may be uncomfortable, UFH notes that “skipping the second dose will greatly reduce your protection from COVID-19.”
Anyone with concerns about getting the vaccine may want to consult their doctor prior to their appointment.
Pre-register through the patientportalfl.com or by calling 844-770-8548. Further assistance and information is also available for seniors through the Area Agency on Aging, agingcarefl.org/covid-19-updates-and-information or 1-800-963-5337.