January 26, 2021 6:00am

Many influencers call vaccine rollout 'poor,' but most support help from private entities

Eric Hopkins' mother couldn't wait any longer for a coronavirus vaccine.

By Hannah Morse
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Eric Hopkins' mother couldn't wait any longer for a coronavirus vaccine.

So she hopped in a car and drove to North Carolina, where she would be inoculated the next day.

"Palm Beach County seems to be behind the curve in administering vaccines," said Hopkins, senior vice president of Hundley Farms. "Granted, we have a very large amount of elderly people that qualify for the vaccine, but there seems to be a lot of poor communication and organization. The stress levels for those waiting for vaccines is very high."

More: COVID: Florida adds 12,311 new infections, 156 more deaths as Gov. DeSantis speaks of progress

How is the COVID vaccine distribution process going?

More than 61% of the 112 Palm Beach County leaders and influencers that The Palm Beach Post surveyed agree that the vaccine distribution process has been going "poorly," with almost 36% giving the benefit of the doubt and saying it's "as well as can be expected."

A paltry 2.7% said they felt the process is going well.

The vaccine distribution process reminds Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, of the early days of COVID-19 testing.

What concerns him is the lack of planning in vaccinating harder-hit populations: Black and Hispanic residents; those who live in low-income or multi-family residences; and those who don't have access to health care or technology.

That issue played out at a vaccine event at Tabernacle Baptist Church in West Palm Beach on Jan. 16. While vaccine appointments were open to the public, organizers wanted to target those who live in the immediate area.

More: 'The story consistently changes': Black leaders lament the chaotic vaccine rollout

"The intent of the event along with the location was to have the vaccine accessible for African-American seniors 65-plus living in this community," Franklin said. "The majority of those in line were not Black and did not live in that area — at all."

Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP, said the governor's decision to open up vaccine eligibility to seniors 65 and over "overwhelmed the system." He said he thought bumping the age range to 80 and above first, then expanding accessibility to younger and younger groups, would be a "simple and obvious solution."

"No panic. No imbalances. Fewer deaths," Dinerstein said. "It's not rocket science. It's economics 101: supply and demand."

Politics at the state and national level have led to an "erratic" distribution, said Dr. Debra Robinson, a Palm Beach County school board member. 

More: COVID: Democratic leaders, Florida residents urge DeSantis not to 'exile' them on vaccination effort

"This should have been run by public health officials with assistance from hospitals, doctor's offices, paramedics, nurses, etc.," she said. "I don't object to the elderly being vaccinated first, but it is time for people with risk factors to get the vaccine."

Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Rachelle Litt said states should not have been "scrambling" to put together distribution plans and appointment websites.

"We knew the anticipated vaccine timeline over the summer. The technology exists and partnerships with the business community and their logistical specialists could have avoided the scheduling issues," Litt said.

Should private entities administer the vaccine?

In fact, 92.9% of Palm Beach County leaders surveyed said private entities such as pharmacies and doctor's offices should be allowed to administer the vaccine.

"Engaging the private sector to provide logistics expertise may have helped the rollout, and might still be beneficial," said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link. "I'm hoping supply increases soon, as we also need to quickly vaccinate additional sectors, including frontline workers and those with complicating underlying complications."

Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Mark Marciano said he hopes to see a "big improvement" with government and private entities working together.

More: How to get COVID-19 vaccine at Publix in Palm Beach County

"There's been an over-promise and under-deliver situation here," Marciano said. "When the federal government said 20 million people would be vaccinated by January 1, people expected a reliable supply of vaccine. When the governor included all residents 65 and over ... this added a tremendous amount of pressure to supply the millions of Floridians with vaccine quickly. Unfortunately, neither government agency was up to the task and now we're left with angry and frustrated public."

Just 17% of those surveyed had been vaccinated, while 30% had not. The rest weren't yet eligible.

While he filed out "a couple of forms online with no results so far," Jorge Pesquera, executive director of Discover the Palm Beaches, said he wishes that the federal government came up with a streamlined, singular way for people to register for the vaccine.

"It would be nice to learn about an estimated date to receive the vaccine," he said.

George Gentile, who owns a land-planning firm in Jupiter, said his journey to get a vaccine ended with a good result.

"While the process to get an appointment to receive the vaccine was most disappointing, once we arrived at the Palm Beach County Health Department the entire process was excellent," he said.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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