More than 1.5 million Floridians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. More than 24,500 died from the disease.

More than one million people have received vaccinations in Florida in recent weeks. The Florida Department of Health reports more than 90,000 people have also received their second vaccine shot, but nearly 41,000 are overdue for that booster.

But getting the vaccine remains challenging. Making an appointment is still chaotic for many people. Attempts to sign up have been plagued by busy phone lines, crashing websites, and a lack of a centralized information center.

Many Floridians are frustrated with the vaccine rollout and what appears to be the lack of an executable plan. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), says the leadership should come from the federal government.

“We knew this vaccine was coming,” he told SFGN. “So why there’s scrambling now is insane.”

In Florida, there is no standard. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management is managing the rollout. Its director, Jared Moskowitz, told state lawmakers he’s planning to roll out a statewide COVID-19 vaccine appointment system. But he and other state officials have left executing Governor DeSantis’ vaccine plans to hospitals and county health departments.

“I think there really ought to be one standard,” Weinstein said. “Then provisions are to be made for flexibility, within that standard. When you’re talking about vaccinating more than 200 million people, we’re not going to get there from here, doing things the way we’re doing them now.”

But that standard remains elusive. Right now, there is an unpredictable number of doses coming into Florida each week from the federal government, as the demand for the vaccine continues to increase. It’s happening as new COVID-19 cases are also high. Weinstein says that it should be a matter of harm reduction versus abstinence when it comes to asking people to comply with safety rules.

“People should be encouraged to safely exercise outdoors,” he said. “Many places should allow outdoor dining to remain open. I think that we should be trying to keep the schools open as much as possible,” he said. “But on the other hand, there probably shouldn't be gay circuit parties in developing countries.”

When it comes to communicating about the virus and the vaccine, Weinstein says it’s a job best left to the experts, not politicians.

“Let scientists and doctors speak. Our governor [Gavin Newsom] will stand in front of a lectern for an hour and a half talking. And, whether he realizes it or not, people have stopped listening. And even DeSantis [Florida’s governor], he's one who's most out front, and the debacle of him going after that scientist Rebekah Jones, that’s horrible.”

Weinstein is optimistic that handling the virus and the vaccine will improve with a new administration in Washington and adds some changes should happen immediately to beat back the disease.

“We need to depoliticize this and take the egos out of it. We need to speak with one voice and allow people to do what’s safe and strongly advocate against the things that are not safe,” he said. “The vaccine has to be given through thousands of entry points and not a handful.”

Volunteer

A volunteer with AHF stands next to a sign that says, “AIDS: the other pandemic.” Photo via AHF, Facebook.