PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Lee County Manager Responds to Criticism of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Unlike Lee County, Charlotte County Vaccinated people by appointment in a drive-through set-up
Andrea Perdomo
Unlike Lee County, Charlotte County Vaccinated people by appointment in a drive-through set-up

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais found himself on defense, Wednesday, after images of senior citizens lined up for hours and camping overnight for the chance to get an initial COVID-19 vaccine dose dominated local headlines.

With low temperatures reaching the mid-50’s overnight Monday, vaccination hopefuls over 65-years-old bundled up and brought lawn chairs to sites in Lee county for the hours-long wait to receive a first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Public reaction to the wait time and seniors out in the cold was swift and angry.

“I got a lot of hate mail in the last couple of days. I don’t think I’ve been called incompetent so many times in a string of emails ever in my career,” Desjarlais said.

He went on to explain the decision making and lead-up to the county’s vaccine rollout, saying there was little information in the lead up to vaccine doses becoming available in Lee County.

“I mean, all of a sudden with very little warning the vaccines are starting to make their way into Florida and all of the other states,” Desjarlais said.

Administered by the Florida Department of Health in each of the state’s 67 counties, DOH officials in Lee County decided late last week to look to the County for additional logistical support. Desjarlais says he first got involved Saturday.

“That’s when we really got to work in earnest. Saturday. That’s when we started standing this thing up. So now what?” he said.

With no appointment system in place, seniors started planning where to pitch their tents.

“The biggest criticism that we’ve gotten so far has been, ‘We’ve got people camping out all night. Why don’t we have a reservation system?’”

Desjarlais says internet-based appointment systems have too many technical issues.

“Every county that’s done it so far; their website crashes,” Desjarlais said.

Neighboring Collier and Charlotte Counties have not reported any problems with their reservation systems. Desjarlais said that appointments would make it more difficult to move people through quickly.

“I’m not embarrassed. I’m actually pretty proud of the way that it’s gone,” he said.

Concerns have come up that long lines of maskless people waiting for a vaccine could become super-spreader events. Desjarlais maintains that wearing masks, or camping out in the cold are personal decisions for the seniors currently eligible for inoculation under this first phase of the vaccine rollout.

“We told people, don’t camp out, don’t stand in line, but we’re also not going to arrest them if they do. They can do that if they so choose,” Desjarlais said.

He added that the county plans to have a schedule for next week’s vaccine locations and times on the county’s web site sometime this weekend.