County Commission: Pasco being shorted on COVID-19 vaccination doses

The lack of COVID-19 vaccines provided in Pasco compared with surrounding counties in the region raised concerns about fairness and public health during Tuesday’s Pasco County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Commissioner Mike Moore said at the meeting that the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County was supposed to receive 3,500 vaccination doses in the week beginning Jan. 11 but received none, citing a letter received from DOH-Pasco Administrator Mike Napier. Moore said he called Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director, and got the latter to send 1,000 vaccines to Pasco.

“And while I do appreciate that, that’s not enough,” Moore said, stating that efforts by other state lawmakers helped the county receive an additional 500 doses on top of the aforementioned 1,000.

On Wednesday, DOH-Pasco announced a new round of vaccination administration will take place at Saint Leo University on Friday, Jan. 15. (More details below.)

Of an estimated population of 600,000 people, Moore said, one-third are over 65. At the rate they’re going it will take almost seven and a half years to vaccinate the people in the county, he said. Moore added that it would take approximately three and a half years to vaccinate the entire Pasco population if 3,500 doses were received each week.

County administrator Dan Biles said the entire region is being shortchanged on vaccines. He said Pinellas County, which has almost 30,000 people vaccinated, is short, too.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management website, www.FloridaDistaster.org, 648,353 total people received at least the first of two vaccination doses as of the Jan. 12 report. The website tracks vaccination distributions to all 67 Florida counties. A total of 12,298 people were vaccinated in Pasco County as of the Jan. 12 report, compared to 29,078 in Pinellas, 28,984 in Hillsborough and 6,341 in Hernando. Dade County administered vaccination doses to the most people (76,436), followed by Broward (56,187).

Pasco County received an initial 3,500 vaccination doses meant for public distribution to residents 65 and over. The reason the county’s total is more than 12,000 includes vaccination doses administered to hospital employees and front-line healthcare workers.

“God dang it, we have to have our fair share,” said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. “For us to get zero is unconscionable and unacceptable.”

Biles reminded commissioners that residents can attempt to register for vaccinations in any Florida county, not just Pasco. “We’ve added the links to every county’s site in the region to go register,” he said, adding that Pasco residents can try to get vaccinated at various Publix locations in Hernando and Citrus counties.

While systems are being set up for people to register to get vaccinated, Commissioner Jack Mariano expressed concern over those who might not be able to use a computer to get in line. Biles responded that the library system and senior services programs are available to help seniors get on the vaccination list.

DOH-Pasco changed its online registration process from the first rollout of vaccination doses, contracting with CDR Maguire Health and Medical. The new link to sign up, view vaccination locations and register is PatientPortalFL.com. Residents may also call 1-844-770-8548.

DOH-Pasco issued a press release Wednesday afternoon announcing 500 vaccination doses will be administered to individuals 65 and older at Saint Leo University, 33701 State Road 52, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15.

The patient portal went live to book appointments at 2 p.m., Jan. 13.

DOH-Pasco has a waitlist of approximately 250 people and those individuals were to receive an email from CDR Maguire with information on how to book their appointments when the portal opened. The press release states the remaining 250 or so appointments are available for booking when the portal went live at 2 p.m., Wednesday.

If waitlist residents have not made their appointment by 5 p.m. today, Jan. 13, the slots will be made available for general booking. Residents unable to book an appointment after 2 p.m. are encouraged to go back at 5 p.m. and try again.

The Saint Leo University vaccination location is a drive-thru site and individuals are to enter the university’s main entrance located at the traffic light on State Road 52 and Palm Boulevard.

“Pasco County expects to receive allocations of vaccine from the state as it is made available,” the DOH-Pasco press release states. “Vaccination appointments will be provided to the public based on the vaccine supply allocation received. Limited availability of vaccines is anticipated over the next several weeks.”

“We were supposed to open up St. Leo for drive-through this week,” Commission Chairman Ron Oakley said during Tuesday’s meeting prior to the DOH-Pasco announcement. “But getting absolutely none on Monday, and then hearing we’re getting a thousand today, and then adding 500, that’s just not acceptable. We got to have more vaccines for this county.”

Starkey proposed the county draft a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis “requesting that vaccines be distributed per capita in a fair and uniform manner.” Mariano took it one step further, suggesting a similar letter be sent to the federal government. The motion passed unanimously.