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Another day of vaccine chaos in Tampa Bay

Appointments booked within hours, phone calls went unanswered, and a long line formed around the block.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Monday was madness and Tuesday wasn't much better.

Anyone in Florida 65 or older is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine thanks to the Governor's executive order stating seniors will receive priority for COVID-19 vaccinations.

There are no restrictions on residency or further age priority. Governor DeSantis said there are 4.4 million people in Florida at least 65 years old.

Counties quickly started to implement plans and two of the state's largest, Hillsborough and Pinellas, launched online registration portals Monday but had to take them down before the day was over.

The websites failed miserably. The sites became overloaded and crashed. On Tuesday, health departments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties announced they would only take vaccine appointments by phone.

Diane Gagne, a 70-year-old Largo resident spent eight hours on the phone Monday trying to snag an appointment for herself and her 82-year-old husband. She never had luck and was back at it again Tuesday morning.

"You dial that number, nothing! You dial that number, no ring, no nothing. It just goes dead," explained Gagne who says she can't afford internet right now so she's relying on her neighbor for the latest information from the Pinellas County Health Department.

Hundreds of people showed up to the Department of Health building in St. Petersburg Tuesday morning to try to make an appointment in person. The line reached the end of the block.

By 12:30 p.m., Pinellas County health leaders announced their vaccine reservations were booked and registration was closed.

RELATED: Pinellas County stops accepting new coronavirus vaccination appointments

"We ask people to remain patient as we continue to get these vaccines into circulation," said Department of Health spokesperson Tom Iovino who explained there are 250,000 people in Pinellas County at least 65 or older.

Iovino said despite the setbacks, the county was able to schedule and vaccinate about 350-400 people Tuesday. 

He asked for patience and apologized for the inconvenience caused by the initial roll-out Monday. Iovino also urged the public to continue wearing masks and social distancing.

Hillsborough County was given 9,000 vaccine doses to be administered to their 65+ population. They'll start vaccinating seniors Wednesday morning.

Health leaders there were able to schedule 7,000 reservations Monday and spent Tuesday scheduling the remaining 2,000 doses. Phone lines were clogged for most trying to get through.

WHAT NEXT?

On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis announced hospitals will lead the vaccination charge in local communities. He even used funding as an incentive for hospitals to work efficiently in vaccinating seniors.

RELATED: Governor DeSantis announces plans to continue Florida's 'aggressive approach' to vaccine rollout

Justin Senior, the CEO of Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida which includes Tampa General Hospital and Sarasota Memorial said, "The details are going to be forthcoming and these things are rapidly being ramped up now."

Senior said he's spoken directly with Governor DeSantis about distribution efforts and is confident the nightmare we're currently seeing will get smoothed out quickly.

"Any big initiative like this takes some time to get off the ground. There is forward momentum building and it is going to become a much smoother and more organized process. Sites are opening up. Slots are opening up," said Senior.

RELATED: County leaders say mass COVID-19 vaccination sites would help, but they'd need state resources

As for vaccination plans in your community, Senior says it depends on where you live as hospitals work with churches, community centers, and health departments to figure out the best way to get people vaccinated as quick as possible.

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