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Rural Panhandle Counties Go Low-Tech Scheduling Seniors For COVID Vaccine

The Opera House and the Jefferson County Courthouse in Monticello, Fla., are at the center of its historic downtown.
Greg Allen
The Opera House and the Jefferson County Courthouse in Monticello, Fla., are at the center of its historic downtown.

They're staying away from online appointments, opting for scheduling by phone or filling out a paper application instead.

To get a COVID-19 vaccine, seniors in many counties across the state must set their appointments online. But some rural health departments in the Panhandle are taking a low-tech approach to scheduling.

“We don’t have the capability at this point of doing anything online," said Pam Beck, public information officer at the Florida Department of Health in Jefferson County. "We’re willing to get to that point, but we don’t have that capability yet.”

Other departments in the state, including those in Bay and Leon Counties, have urged seniors to request an appointment online. Bay County DOH is using the ticket-selling website Eventbrite. Meanwhile departments in rural counties, including Jackson, Holmes, Washington, Calhoun and Liberty, have been scheduling people only by phone.

In Jefferson and Madison Counties, departments are requiring residents to fill out a paper screening application and return it to the office.

“We don’t have much broadband out here," Beck said. "And with this age group, a lot of them are choosing to come in and actually getting a form.”

Beck says copies of the form are available at both local health departments and at the senior center in Monticello, Florida. She says residents may also call the department and request an application to be mailed to them.

Jefferson County's health department line is (850) 342-0170. Madison County's department line is (850) 973-5000.

After residents have either hand-delivered, mailed or scanned and emailed their application to the office, someone will then call them to book a time to get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, which involves a series of two shots, Beck said.

Community vaccinations in both rural counties began this week. And health care workers and first responders received their first doses last week, Beck said.

The two counties' health departments have put in place nearly identical coronavirus vaccination programs in their communities, Beck said. That's because both operate under the same administrator.

"The only change is that we’re doing our Tuesday clinics in the morning, and they’re doing their Tuesday clinics in the afternoon."

On Tuesdays, appointments are available in Jefferson County between 8 - 11:45 a.m. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, appointments will be scheduled all day in both counties, Beck said. Instead of vaccinating seniors on Mondays and Fridays, health officials will be testing symptomatic patients for coronavirus, she said.

In Calhoun and Liberty Counties, residents over 65 can pick up the phone and call their local health department to make an appointment receive their first coronavirus vaccine dose.

Appointments are taking place in those two counties Monday - Friday between 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. CST and 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. EST.

To make an appointment in Calhoun County, residents may call (850) 674-5645. In Liberty County, the department's number to call is (850) 643-2415.

More staff members are answering phones to handle the increase call volume, said Georgia Daniels, SNAP Education Coordinator at the Calhoun County DOH. Daniels is also helping schedule people for the coronavirus vaccine.

“Spots are booking up really quickly," Daniels said. But spots were still available as of Tuesday afternoon. Local health officials plan to continue scheduling seniors indefinitely, she said.

The department has also started a waitlist for younger people who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine, she said.

“If they aren’t sixty-five and older and aren’t medical personnel or medical essentials, then we’ve just been putting them on a waitlist and we’ll just call them when those other vaccinations come in.”

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.