MIAMI – Linda Kleindienst Bruns signed up for a coronavirus vaccine in late December. On the first day, the Tallahassee, Florida health department opened applications for people her age. Even though she was 72 years old and her immune system was suppressed by drugs that kept her breast cancer in remission, she waited days to hear about an appointment.
"It's so disorganized," she said. "I was hoping the system would be set up so that there was some kind of logic."
Phyllis Humphreys, 76, was waiting with her husband last week in a line of cars in Clermont, west of Orlando, that merged onto Highway 27. They got in their car and driven 22 miles after receiving an automated text message telling them that vaccine doses were available. But at 9:43 a.m. the site had reached capacity and the Humphreys went home with no gunshots.
"We're talking about vaccinations," said Ms. Humphreys, a retired intensive care nurse. "We're not talking about getting people into the 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-intentioned efforts to open the doors of the vaccination program to all over 65s have resulted in long lines, confusion and disappointment.
States across the country are under pressure from residents to reach a wider segment of the public, even as they struggle to vaccinate health care workers, nursing home residents, and rescue workers. Florida, which has already prioritized a large portion of its population for getting the vaccine, shows the challenges of expanding a vaccination program that is being developed at record speed and with limited federal support.
"How do you make something that big and roll it out?" said Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch, chairman of the behavioral and social medicine department at Florida State University. "It is by no means surprising – to anyone who has followed it closely – that there would be delays and missteps when something of this magnitude got off the ground, whether it was Florida or the whole country."
The guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that after the earliest groups, key workers and those aged 75 and over should be given the next priority. Some states, including Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Hawaii, have decided to vaccinate people 65 and over before major workers and other states follow suit.
As the states and counties largely have to regulate the logistics themselves, the rollout went anything but smooth.
People camped overnight in the Florida winter cold at Fort Myers and Daytona Beach to receive vaccines, which were given as available. This spectacle made headlines across the country. The offices of the Department of Health in Sarasota and several other counties, which were unable to schedule vaccination appointments on their own websites, used Eventbrite, a service usually associated with invitations to dinner parties and art exhibitions.
Palm Beach County only accepted vaccination requests through email, said county health administrator Dr. Alina Alonso, after the county telephone system "absolutely died". People in line have been warned that they may have to wait months for an appointment. Meanwhile, some wealthy people with health facility connections could get the vaccine more easily.
In addition to the complications, the Florida Emergency Management department announced on Sunday that their coronavirus testing and vaccination site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens – the most recent scene of long lines of people waiting to be vaccinated – will be covering much of the Mondays will be closed off for the national championship game of the College Football Playoffs.
Experts say Florida is an example of what happens when officials try to distribute a vaccine that is still very limited in availability to a wide range of the population. In a state of approximately 4.4 million people ages 65 and older, more than 402,000 doses were administered on Friday, the fourth highest total in the nation, according to federal figures. However, Florida has only used about 30 percent of the vaccine doses it received, behind 29 other states.
Some people were successful, including Janice and Walter Greer, who were in the same line as the Humphreys in Clermont on Wednesday. Greer had called Lake Lake repeatedly, hoping to get information about vaccine availability.
Mr. Greer has a brother in Ohio with Covid-19. "I couldn't visit him," he said softly, filling himself with tears. "He's got pneumonia."
But while the Greers were in line early enough to receive shots, many more people left without one and were quite upset.
"My heart is beating 100 miles a minute," said Shirley LaBoy, 65, of Polk County, who came to the recreation center only to see a line of cars and a digital street sign that read "NO VACCINES TODAY".
Answers to your vaccine questions
If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine?
While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination?
Life will not return to normal until society as a whole receives enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries approve a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible for people to spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild or no symptoms. Scientists don't yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination?
Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it while they don't have a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
Will it hurt What are the side effects?
The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that after the second shot, people will need to have a day off to work freely or go to school. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system's encounter with the vaccine and a strong response that ensures lasting immunity.
Will mRNA vaccines change my genes?
No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given point in time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell's enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can hold for a few days at most before it is destroyed.
“I was at the computer all day. I feel emotionally stressed, ”said Ms. LaBoy, who was unable to see her children for fear of contracting the virus. "We're tired of being locked up. Then I'll get the chance to get the vaccine and I can't even get that."
Lake County's health administrator Aaron Kissler said officials wanted to shoot in the arms quickly, even without a more organized appointment system. "Right now we just wanted to get out as much as possible," he said.
In Texas, at least 527,000 residents received at least the first dose of vaccine on Friday, according to the Texas Department of Health. About 107,000 of them were 65 years of age or older, out of more than 3.7 million Texans who were eligible in that age group. However, there were similar problems as in Florida.
Dr. Bob Kelly, a 77-year-old retired veterinarian in Austin, said he made 20 or more calls to look for a vaccine before connecting to an internet connection at the hospital at 3 a.m. one night, a few days later offered an appointment.
He and his wife drove 25 miles to the appointment only to learn that supplies were so limited that the vaccine would only be given to people with aggravating health conditions. So you are back where you started, with your names on five waiting lists in pharmacies, chain hospitals and a doctor's practice.
"That's what's going on," said Dr. Kelly. "The rollout is slow, the method of administration is inefficient, and who receives it is arbitrary."
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has confirmed that the initial rollout was bumpy.
But he has steadfastly defended the state's decision to open the door to all seniors, stating that he could not in good conscience see a 20-year-old boxing food vaccinated in front of a grandparent and not in a state which killed more than 22,000 people with coronavirus, 83 percent were 65 years or older.
The multitude of vaccine doses so far has reached people between the ages of 65 and 74, not people aged 75 and over, who are most susceptible to the virus.
Part of the delay in numbers may be due to the elderly, who are extra careful when it comes to developing a new vaccine in record time. However, older seniors could also be at a disadvantage as the process often required some level of computer literacy and was generally not clear or consistent, said Dr. Contribution
"Each of our 67 counties seem to be taking a slightly different path – and that's remarkable because we have a single health department that is supposed to cover the entire state," said Dr. Beitsch, whose 71-year-old technician The Savvy Brother, was vaccinated in Orlando after completing an application form that took about 40 minutes.
The Florida Department of Health is working on an online appointment system for all counties, but it's not ready, despite the DeSantis administration saying it has been preparing for the vaccine to roll out since July. It stored millions of supplies and registered 270+ vendors to get the footage as it became available.
Mr DeSantis said his administration had moved more aggressively than other states, bringing teams of health workers and National Guard members to nursing homes in the week before CVS and Walgreens pharmacies began vaccinating these residents. Florida is also distributing cans to Publix supermarkets and churches to improve access to the community.
"We will be there for our parents," he said in a press conference on Sunday. "We will be there for our grandparents. And that will do more than anything to lower mortality and change the behavior of this virus in the state of Florida."
The lucky vaccine recipients were delighted.
"Everything was great," said Susan Hacker after she was shot dead Thursday in the Century Village community in Boca Raton.
The state doesn't have a residency requirement so people can get the vaccine in their home country – or even be Florida residents. Reports in Argentina reported how wealthy people vacationing in Miami received vaccinations.
Of more concern to officials were private institutions that distributed the vaccine to people outside of the priority groups. The MorseLife Health System, a nursing home and assisted living facility in West Palm Beach, is under investigation by the Florida Inspector General and the Department of Health after the New York Post and Washington Post reports that it was targeting vaccines to wealthy donors.
In an interview Tuesday, Hong Chae, the organization's chief financial officer, said that some board members and nursing home volunteers would be offered the vaccine in case facility managers were incapacitated by the virus and board members had to "come in and flake off", "said he.
Some Miami hospitals have also vaccinated board members, according to local doctors and patients.
One of them, Rosario Rico Toro, posted news of the receipt of the Pfizer vaccine to Facebook friends on December 30th. "Baptist Vaccination Day !!" She wrote next to a picture of her Covid-19 vaccination protocol.
In an interview, Ms. Rico Toro, a former Miss Bolivia who now does community service for hospitals, said that she received the vaccine because of her donations and volunteer work for Miami Baptist Hospital. When one of the hospital doctors canceled an appointment to get the shot, the hospital offered her the seat.
"They called and said, 'Would you like to get it as a board member? "She remembered.
The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Rico Toro, 49 and in good health, said she was hesitant at first. But the hospital gave her the impression that if she refused the vaccine it would be offered to another board member or possibly not even used, so she took it. "My question is why not?"
Dr. Perri Young, an internist in Miami, said the sales process was shambolic and ineffective. Even as a doctor, her access to information is minimal.
"It's crazy here," she said. "It got kind of lawless."
By the end of the week, Mrs. Kleindienst Bruns in Tallahassee had received good news: Her internist had received vaccination doses. Does she want one?
She got it on Saturday. "It was that simple," she said.
Patricia Mazzei reported from Miami, Eric Adelson from Clermont, Florida, and Kate Kelly from New York. David Montgomery contributed to coverage from Austin, Texas; Neil Reisner of Coconut Creek, Florida and Boca Raton, Florida; and Rachel Abrams from Los Angeles.