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Lee County COVID-19 vaccinations continue under new reservation system

The second week of COVID-19 vaccinations in Lee County got underway Tuesday morning, a day after a new reservation system was used to avoid the long lines that plagued the county’s first week of inoculations.

FDOH-Lee said the line Tuesday morning was moving quickly, with 1,000 doses of the vaccine expected to be given to those 65 and older, as well as frontline health care workers.

Those who were lucky enough to score an appointment Monday were told to arrive 45 minutes early, and FDOH-Lee said people were doing just that. No one was camping out and no one arrived early, which were issues seen last week when vaccinations got underway and appointments weren’t being taken.

The people fortunate enough to get an appointment for Tuesday said getting the shot is like winning a lottery jackpot.

“I could’ve run in here and I can’t run. I’m just excited,” said Barbara Caroselli. “I told him it was like when we were younger and wanted to get concert tickets. You’d call the radio station and hope like hell that you win.”

Barbara and husband John’s third try to get the vaccine proved to be the charm. Twice they sat in line for hours but left because they couldn’t handle it.

“At first we couldn’t believe it. That anybody could set something up like this,” John said.

“The county and people in charge listened to what other folks had to say and fixed the problem,” Barbara said.

Fixed, in their opinion, because unlike tens of thousands of people just like them, they got through on the phone and made their appointments. They say they’re buying more time.

“Pushing 80 years old, high-risk group, we’d like to be around a little longer to hang with the grandchildren, you know, enjoy life,” John said.

It was a feeling shared by so many people at the site.

“I miss my grandkids,” Barbara said. “They live just five blocks away but they go to school, they have to work, so I can’t see them, I can’t hug them, hold them. So, you know, the phone, FaceTime, but that’s all.”

The Carosellis said the first thing they’ll do once they get that second dose is give their grandkids a big hug. The second thing: go out for some nice Italian food.

Also at the site on Tuesday: four family members, one of whom desperately needed the vaccine.

“I’ve got one leg,” said Dick Young, 71. “Type 1 diabetic for 61 years, Stage 4 kidney failure, slight high blood pressure.”

The family made many phone calls on Monday to get him there.

“My little sister lined it all up for us,” Young said. “She’s very persistent and she kept jamming it, 55 times ’til she got through. That’s her, she’s been that way her whole life.”

His sister Pat still has his back, and now he has the shot in the arm.

“We’ve all worried about him his whole life practically, since the third grade. And the doctor said he wouldn’t live past, what was it? 50 or 60? 40. 40?” Pat said.

The vaccine is a blessing for the at-risk man, who already fought off the virus once.

“That’s why it was important to get the shot for me,” he said.

Even with the odds against him, Young beat the virus. His brother-in-law’s sister didn’t.

“His favorite sister just died of COVID,” Pat said.

“I think her lungs were damaged, and she died Dec. 14,” said Terry Hamann, Young’s brother-in-law.

The vaccine won’t give Hamann that goodbye with his sister, and it won’t bring her back to life, but it will protect what’s left of his family.

“She put her picture as my screensaver on my computer, so I see her every morning when I turn it on,” he said.

Vaccinations will continue Wednesday and Thursday, with 2,000 doses being administered each day.

The new site is at the old Southwest Florida International Airport terminal location on Chamberlin Parkway. FDOH-Lee says anyone who shows up without an appointment will be turned away. At least seven people showed up at the site Tuesday without an appointment, officials said.

The county says they expect to receive more doses this week and reservations will then be taken for those using the new reservation system, which debuted Monday. Scroll down for some information from the county on making your reservation.

Trust WINK News to update you as soon as information is released.

Lee County on Tuesday answered some questions about the process:

Q1: Who can get an appointment?

A1: Currently, these vaccines are only available for people age 65+ and frontline healthcare workers. Please remember to bring identification and, for healthcare workers, a copy of your license issued by the Florida Department of Health (MQA) and proof of employment in the form of an employer ID badge or pay stub.

Q2: How do I register for an appointment?

A2: We have a call center staffed by trained operators who will take calls and arrange appointments. The number to call is 1-833-618-2001. TTY number (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf): 787-522-5904.

If all operators are busy, you will be asked if you would like to request a call back as soon as an operator is available. If you choose the callback option and answer the phone when the call comes, you will not lose your place in line. It is important to not hang up until you enter your phone number for a call back. The operators are averaging 5-6 minutes per call so it may take a few hours or until the next day to receive a return call, but you will receive a return call.

Once the weekly allotted number of appointments are filled, callers will receive a recorded message encouraging them to visit www.leegov.com/vaccine for more information about future appointment openings once more vaccine arrives.

Q3: What if I miss my call back?

A3: If you do not answer when we call, you will, unfortunately, lose your place in line and will need to try again during the next appointment scheduling event.

Q4: What if my call is disconnected? Will I still be in the queue and/or receive a call back?

A4: If you heard an automated message stating you will receive a call back, your number has been logged and you will receive a return call from a live agent. Unfortunately, with the volume of calls coming through the phone lines, sometimes calls do get disconnected.

Q5: What if I hear strange sounds/tones when I dial the call center number?

A5: You should not hear strange sounds or tones when you call. If you do, it is possible that you were routed to a bad line. Please hang up and call back.

Q6: What if I get routed to an agent who asked for my credit card information or asked if I’d like to receive a Walmart gift card?

A6: If this happens, hang up immediately to avoid any potential scams. We are investigating why this happened to a few residents during the Monday, January 4th appointment scheduling event, but do not have all the information at this time. You do not need to supply any credit card or social security information to schedule your appointment. This is a free service. During the initial scheduling call, you will be asked for your date of birth and then when you speak to a live operator, they will ask qualifying questions to confirm you meet the scheduling requirements (i.e. 65+ or healthcare worker) plus your name, contact info and mother’s maiden name.

Q7: What if I’m one of the people who gets a message saying all appointments are taken?

A7: You will have an opportunity to make an appointment when the call center opens again during the next scheduling event. As Florida DOH-Lee receives vaccine shipments the phone lines will reopen in a similar way. We will have information on www.leegov.com/vaccine, on social media, and announced through traditional media at regular intervals for the foreseeable future.

Q8: Can one caller schedule for others in their household?

A8: Yes, but only for qualified recipients age 65+ and/or frontline healthcare workers that live in the same household.

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Sydney Persing
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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