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Lee County responds to criticism of "first come, first serve" vaccine distribution

Posted at 7:34 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 19:34:57-05

LEE COUNTY — Lee County is responding to concerns about long lines at vaccine distribution sites.

For the third day in a row, people camped out overnight to make sure they got their shots. Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said they went with the "first come, first serve" approach because they thought it would help people get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine the fastest. But he said, from the beginning of the first distribution in Estero, the complaints started coming in.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been called incompetent so many times in a string of emails ever in my career," said Desjarlais.

He’s receiving those emails because you don’t see people camping out overnight in other counties.

"Here in Collier County, we felt that doing online appointments was the best way to prevent people from standing in line," said Kristine Hollingsworth with the Department of Health in Collier County.

But Desjarlais said, Lee County considered that option and decided against it.

"If you take a look at all of the appointment systems that are being used right now, none of them are good. They just aren’t. They’re not working well," said Desjarlais.

Charlotte County already has its appointment system up and running, administering vaccines to people in their cars. The Department of Health there said initially, it did have problems.

“We had some challenges yesterday. Our web page actually crashed. We got 30,000 hits in 5 minutes," said Joe Pepe with the Department of Health in Charlotte County.

But despite technical difficulties, a woman we spoke with said she still prefers the appointment method.

"Lee County people are spending the night, bringing dinner and breakfast in order to get a shot. They’re selling out, or vaccines are out before they even open up. I made this appointment yesterday and these two ladies are my world," said Kelly Zambito.

But Desjarlais said Lee County recognizes long lines are not a good solution, and they’re working on a better system.

"Our goal is to have a reservation system available sometime within a week," said Desjarlais.

Desjarlais also said new vaccine distribution sites will be announced over the weekend.