Lee County vaccine rollout process is the ‘height of inefficiency’

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Melissa Montoya
Published: Updated:

Residents have been upset with the vaccine rollout in Lee County this week.

The vaccine distribution process for those 65 and older has been largely first-come, first-serve across the county. In some cases, social distancing has gone ignored, possibly contributing to the community spread of COVID-19.

“You’re out here with other people,” said Paige Grant, a nurse at a local hospital that hasn’t received the vaccine. “I mean we’re ‘six feet apart’ but we’re really not. People are walking around and talking to everybody. I mean it’s putting them at risk definitely.”

In addition to the lack of social distancing, people waited overnight in colder temperatures.

“I mean I saw people with oxygen out here,” Grant said. “I can barely see them sitting in hospital beds let alone sitting outside in 45 to 50-degree weather overnight.”

Grant said she waited for the vaccine for more than 13 hours at the Cultural Park in Cape Coral. Lee County has made national headlines for the mishaps in the vaccination distribution process.

“It just seems like this is the height of inefficiency,” said Paul Asfour, a former Cape Coral city council member who tried to get the vaccine but was unable to.

Florida Department of Health in Lee County spokeswoman Tammy Yzaguirre begs to differ.

“We feel that our current model is an efficient model but are assessing all options for future means of vaccine distribution,” Yzaguirre said.

Yzaguirre said Lee County’s first-come, first-serve wait-in-line plan is a faster way to vaccinate people compared to a drive-thru approach in Charlotte County.

Using the drive-thru approach, Charlotte County vaccinated about 200 people in a 2.5-hour window. Comparatively, Yzaguirre said Lee County administered 2,885 doses in six hours.

Yzaguirre said the department never encouraged people to camp out overnight for vaccinations.

“We have asked that people not report to the sites prior to the open time for their safety and well-being,” she said. “We have also encouraged people to be patient and understand that we do not have enough vaccine for everyone to be vaccinated and we cannot all be vaccinated today.”

She said primary care practices and pharmacies will have the vaccine in stock as more of it becomes available.

“We heard reports of counties using reservation systems that have experienced site crashes and appointments booked well beyond vaccine supply,” she said. “FDOH Lee made the choice to begin vaccinating first-come, first-serve because we did not think the community at large would appreciate vaccine sitting in our freezers as opposed to getting it into the community as quickly as possible.”

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said he hopes the county will have a reservation system in the next week, but he isn’t sure that will be the answer.

A reservation system could “slow down the number of people per hour who can get vaccinated.”

“You know, I got a lot of hate mail in the last couple of days,” Desjarlais added.

Desjarlais said he hopes people who can’t wait in line “will hopefully be patient” and wait for when their doctor’s office starts offering the vaccine.

Asfour said he has three grandchildren who he doesn’t get to see as often as he like.

“We were very disappointed as to how it was rolled out,” Asfour said.

Grant, the 26-year-old nurse, said she would do it again if the county doesn’t come up with a solution.

“I mean I’m already thinking about people I can stand in line for, my grandparents,” she said. “My mom and I will be standing outside.”

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