By Charles Elmore
Confusion and limited supplies in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout have left residents and municipal leaders frustrated to know who can have the jab — and when.
"It's the hottest subject for all," said Highland Beach Mayor Doug Hillman.
Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie noted in a Jan. 5 meeting: The town of Palm Beach "miraculously pulled a rabbit out and came up with some vaccines" when they were not widely available across Palm Beach County.
After an initial explanation that Palm Beach was uniquely prepared to start delivering 1,000 doses, Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, later blamed "miscommunication."
The state's delivery plan is designed to prioritize residents over age 65, along with frontline health workers, but it has come under fire as seniors in some counties have been left waiting in line for hours.
In Palm Beach County, health officials said a telephone appointment line was "full and closed" and recommended emails to request vaccine appointments at email@example.com. Recommended: List full name, date of birth, address including zip code, and telephone number.
Alonso warned appointment requests will likely take "months, not days or weeks" to fulfill.
By Jan. 11, state records showed more than 42,000 Palm Beach County residents had received at least the first of two vaccine shots, joining nearly 588,000 statewide.
Unfortunately, the federal supply of vaccine to the state has been about half of what was initially promised, said Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer in Jan. 7 statement.
"With nearly 1.5 million people and 400,000 seniors in our county, that’s nowhere near enough," Singer said.
The city had not received direct shipments of vaccine though Boca Raton Regional Hospital, for example, has been giving shots, he said.
At the Jan. 5 Boynton Beach City Commission meeting, the mayor and vice mayor asked the city manager and new fire chief to come up with a plan for vaccinating seniors over 65.
Mayor Steven Grant asked city leaders to write Alonso to let her know Boynton Beach wants to be part of the vaccination program.
“Look at what the town of Palm Beach did and find out how we can be part of the program,” Grant said.
In Boynton Beach, an estimated 21 percent of its population is 65 or older.
In Delray Beach, Chris Bell, emergency manager with the city’s Fire Rescue Department, wrote to Alonso on Jan. 4 asking for 2,000 doses to vaccinate older residents.
“We will work with leadership among our local clergy to identify those who meet screening criteria,” Bell wrote. “The City will conduct screening, scheduling, administration, and documentation of these vaccinations with no added workload for the Department of Health.”
For the past five years, Delray Beach has had a Closed Point of Distribution agreement with the Department of Health, Bell wrote.
“We have the facilities and plans to conduct drive-through administration and a medical-grade freezer that would allow us to meet the storage and preparation requirements of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine,” Bell wrote.
Ocean Ridge told residents in a Jan. 7 newsletter it did not meet the qualifications to operate as a Closed Point of Distribution including lacking cold storage, but it was exploring a partnership with Boynton Beach.
Highland Beach was exploring a similar arrangement with Delray Beach.
"We all deserve health and safety, need peace of mind, and want to return to normal as quickly as possible," Boca Raton Mayor Singer said.
Rich Pollack, Jane Smith and Mary Hladky contributed to this report.