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Hillsborough restarts COVID vaccinations at three sites as people struggle with reservation process

Hillsborough County says it hears people’s frustrations and are working on improvements.

TAMPA, Fla — Hillsborough County is taking another shot at administering COVID-19 vaccinations after the first attempt ended with a website crash and an overwhelmed call center.

On Wednesday, thousands of people showed up at three locations, which were spread around the county to make it easier for them to reach.

“Oh, I am really thrilled and excited,” said Sharon Occhipinti, after receiving her vaccination. She was more than happy to drive from Tampa to Plant City to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Last week I went on, and the website crashed,” she said. “This week I pre-registered and it was a piece of cake.”

Hillsborough set up three locations, distributing about 9,000 doses of vaccines over the next three days.

In Plant City, hundreds of cars lined up at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds for a process that took about two hours from sign-in to vaccine observation area.

“We’ve been able to adjust things like our technology, or processes, things like how we approach vehicles and where we stage vehicles,” said Jay Raiyaguru, Hillsborough Fire Rescue Emergency Management Coordinator.

Everyone getting vaccinated has to have an appointment, first by registering at the website and then selecting a timeslot based on age.

For some it was easy. For others not so much.

“Very organized,” Clare Williams said. “I got in right away.”

“It was kind of hard to get through on the phone, but we finally got through. And very happy to have gotten a shot,” said Robert Olsen, who brought his wife Karen to the site for her first vaccine dose.

But for Judy and Ty Clarkson, it’s still a waiting game.

The Sun City Center couple tried for hours to get an appointment online or by phone. Last week the website crashed, this week, they found it wasn’t much better.

“They told us we could make an appointment in Orlando, so I thought, OK here, I’m going to try,” Judy said. “But then I couldn’t do it. They were full.”

The county says it’s working on improvements, but for now, the site is often overwhelmed as demand far exceeds supply.

Hillsborough County says it should have a better idea by the end of this week how many vaccines will be available next week and those who haven’t been able to get through yet should check back on their website for information.

“If we don’t stay active,” Judy said. “We’re not gonna get it.”

Her husband Ty agrees. “You know, it’s just that there’s no effective planning going into this thing,” he said.

Hillsborough County says it hears people’s frustrations.

They’re working on ways to improve the website, including a feature that will allow older couples like the Clarksons to register for the vaccine at the same time rather than having to do so separately.

They also ask that people show up at their assigned times to avoid traffic backups.

“The biggest thing we ask for is your patience,” Rajyaguru said. “We are receiving new vaccine amounts each week. So, as we have more vaccine come in and add to our inventory will make more appointments available.”

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