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Vaccination appointments fill quickly

Residents frustrated by process

By Stephen H. Cowles

Staff Writer

Will Drewery, emergency manager for the Western Tidewater Health District, feels the pain that many regional residents have been experiencing in their attempts to get their first COVID-19 vaccination.

While numerous people were able to make appointments on Feb. 4 for their first COVID-19 vaccination, there are reportedly many more who were frustrated in not being able to contact their respective health departments that day.

A Southampton County man said he called 89 times, going between the Courtland and Franklin sites.

A Smithfield man said he called 20-plus times within a two-hour time frame and never got to talk to a live person.

An Isle of Wight County woman reported she started calling at 8 a.m. and did so every few minutes for 90 minutes. To her, the phones did not sound as if they were working correctly. The automated message was either garbled, or repeated either too slowly or too quickly. Transferred calls were re-routed to another recording, but without a way to leave a message. The woman added that a relative went to the clinic and saw a large number of people outside.

One Franklin man, who also asked not to be identified, said he phoned 60 times before giving up and driving to the site. There he saw five or six other people trying to get inside, but was told nobody would come to the door.

Responding to a call for service, a few Franklin police even showed up at that health department.

“We did in fact have to call the Franklin Police Department to our facility in the City of Franklin,” Drewery said via email to the newspaper’s questions. “This was done out of an abundance of caution for our staff following several agitated individuals showing up at the door. Again, we understand everyone’s frustration and we are frustrated too.”

Asked how many appointments the clinic staff scheduled on Thursday, Drewery stated there were 290 people for Franklin and 350 for Southampton. There were 480 appointments made in Isle of Wight, and 840 in Suffolk.

He added, “The numbers provided include the split allocation for each locality for the East End event.” East End Baptist Church, located in Suffolk, will host the 1,000-vaccination event on Feb. 10. The numbers also included the regular clinics at the health departments.

Asked if the health departments had enough people to take appointments, Drewery said, “We had sufficient staff to answer the phone lines, which are allocated to each location. Unfortunately, we are dealing with antiquated infrastructure, which only allows for a certain number of phone lines into the building. It is not an IP-based phone system like folks are used to, so we do not have the ability to expand beyond the number of lines of service, which enter each facility.”

On the suggestion of online registration, Drewery stated, “We do not have an IT person. This diminishes our capacity to create an online system and manage it. Again, we are working as hard as we can with the limited staff and resources we have. We are, however, working through some sort of solution for online registration. Patience.”

He continued, “Again, as more vaccine becomes available to us, we will offer more opportunities. I can assure you and everyone that we are doing this as fast as we possibly can. Like I mentioned above, we are frustrated too.”