The Alachua County Health Department (DOH) has reported that phone calls to residents who signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine are going unanswered at an alarming rate.
During the COVID-19 update at the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on Tuesday, Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers dispelled some rumors about the vaccine scheduling process.
Residents 65 and older are able to sign up for a vaccine by calling at the county's health website portal by clicking here.
Myers told the BOCC that the health department will then call people who signed up by order of age. As of Tuesday, Myers said DOH staff is currently contacting residents in their 80s.
But Myers said that many of the schedulers are making calls that go unanswered.
"It's a live call," Myers said, not a robocall. "Please answer your phone."
Myers said appointment schedulers keep trying, but "after three tries, sometimes five, we are not getting through."
Myers said it is not true that people are stating that patients are moved to the bottom of the list if they don't answer the first call.
Myers then put the phone number on the screen and urged people to remember that 352-334-7900 is the health department staff reaching out for a vaccine appointment.
According to the county health department site: "DOH staff are currently contacting eligible recipients for the COVID-19 vaccine. The number that will appear on the caller ID will show as 352-334-7900, it is important that you answer the call on the first try for faster service. If a call goes unanswered you will be placed back on the list and reached for the next event. We are currently calling age groups 100+ to 80 years old. If you are age 65 and over and are interested in getting a Pfizer/Moderna COVID-19 vaccine through the Alachua County Health Department, please follow the link below to fill out the request form."
To reach the health department by phone call 352-334-8810 from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.
Myers said that Alachua County currently has a per capita vaccination rate of 59/1000 of the population, which is the highest in the state.
Myers reminded the BOCC that 8 out of 10 people dying from COVID-19 are 65 and older.
So far, 15,949 people have received the vaccine. Myers said among those 65 percent are the Pfizer vaccine and 35 percent are the Moderna vaccine.
Myers said that about 25,000 people 65 and older have registered for the vaccine out of the more than 40,000 in the county.
He added that the Gainesville Fire Rescue and Alachua County Fire Rescue have offered to deliver the vaccine to people who have mobility issues.
He also said certain caregivers are a priority for receiving the vaccine.
"If you are a caretaker and you show up with a [person] 65 and older, you are going to get vaccinated," he said.
According to the FDOH COVID-19 Dashboard, Alachua County has had 17,878 cases, and 796 hospitalizations and 141 deaths attributed to the virus.
Cases continue to increase and are trending upward at a faster rate in current days according to the rising positivity rates.
"The trend is going up," Myers said. "There is just no question about that."
Myers said the data is reflecting the holiday travel and family events.
"We came together, many people traveled," he said. "It shows that this is a disease of distance."
Myers said that local ERs are seeing an increasing trend of patients presenting COVID-19 symptoms, more so than the flu.
"It's concerning," Myers said. He explained that the flu and COVID-19 share symptoms such as fever, body aches, nausea: "The main difference is shortness of breath."
According to Myers, the vaccine is crucial for the most vulnerable population to survive the virus. Those 65 to 74 years old who get COVID-19 are five times more likely to be hospitalized and are 90 times more at risk for death. Those 85 and older are 13 times more likely to be hospitalized and are 630 times more likely to die from the virus.