The COVID Vaccine Rollout Is Such A Mess That In Some Places, People Are Sleeping In Their Cars To Get Doses

"I said, 'Mom, that's where I get tickets to see drag queens. Why are you getting vaccines through Eventbrite?'"

When a friend sent Khalid el Khatib a news story about health departments in Florida using Eventbrite — a platform known for promoting concerts and shows — to organize the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, he almost thought it was a prank.

"That's insane," Khatib, a 35-year-old marketer who works for a technology company in New York City, responded in a text.

Then Khatib realized it was the same county his 77-year-old father lives in. So he called his father, a retired physician in Sarasota County, who said he became confused by the platform and stopped trying to register when it took too long.

Khatib and his two sisters have since signed up for alerts on the Eventbrite page.

"When we get an alert, we'll just take the same approach we do when there is a concert we want to see, which is outrageous," he said.

News of a vaccine to help stop the spread of a pandemic that has killed more than 364,000 people in the US seemed to offer a glimmer of hope, but with no plan or guidance from the federal government, states have had to face the task of tackling what is one of the world's largest inoculation efforts. Some states have since passed the task on to county governments, producing a hodgepodge of rollout efforts that have left many people confused.

Nowhere has that been more pronounced than in Florida, where multiple counties have adopted Eventbrite as their scheduling system.

Eventbrite did not respond to questions as to whether it had coordinated or been in contact with any government or health agency about using their platform for vaccine distribution. Officials for the counties that use the system also did not respond to requests for comment on how they chose the system.

The company, however, said it was looking at ways to "best support the effort to increase access to vaccines."

There's SO MUCH that is wrong with this. Including the fact that some of the most at risk people don't have access to computers or the internet. So they are basically totally fucked with this process. Which doesn't just put them at risk, it puts all of us at greater risk.

Twitter: @shamuskhan

Just before New Year's Eve, New York–based actor Todd Buonopane called to check on his mother in Collier County, where she told him she needed a "ticket" to get the vaccine.

"I said, 'Where do you get tickets?'" he told BuzzFeed News. "And like a woman in her seventies would say, she said, 'At'"

"I said, 'Mom, that's where I get tickets to see drag queens. Why are you getting vaccines through Eventbrite?'"

In late December, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that all residents 65 or older be eligible to receive the first batch of vaccine doses after healthcare workers, but counties have been overwhelmed and underprepared.

In Volusia County, officials set up a first-come, first-served system, resulting in long lines that included elderly residents sleeping in their cars for hours.

The Hillsborough County online registration page crashed within minutes on Monday after the phone line at one point was flooded with about 2,000 calls per minute, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Other states have also faced hurdles in taking on the monumental task.

In Oklahoma, several regions have also relied on online tools to organize vaccine appointments, such as the free SignUpGenius program.

The state's deputy health commissioner told reporters in a press conference Monday that they had planned to use a program created by the CDC, but then decided it "wasn't right for Oklahoma." On Tuesday, the state health department delayed the launch of its own app for scheduling inoculations.

Even hospitals looking to vaccinate frontline workers with the very first batches of the vaccine have faced serious hiccups. At Stanford Medical Center in California, officials resorted to using an algorithm to distribute the first doses, but then faced protests from staff who noted the algorithm had left out doctors, nurses, and other COVID-19 frontline workers and instead gave priority to administrators and some physicians who were seeing patients via video calls.

Some states have resorted to calling on the National Guard to help with simple tasks as breaking down shipments of the vaccine into smaller packages to distribute to health providers. The National Guard was expected to be helping at least 26 states distribute vaccine doses.

"Delays in funding a health system fighting the worst point of the pandemic — a lot of very sick people and an already stretched workforce — are going to create a lot of challenges for vaccination," said Jim Blumenstock of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Until last week, Congress had provided little funding to states to assist with the vaccine rollout, he added.

DeSantis on Monday defended his decision to put counties in charge of distribution plans, telling a CNN reporter during a heated exchange, "These guys are much more competent to be able to deliver healthcare services than state government could ever be."

That's meant some counties have resorted to using platforms like Eventbrite, including Nassau, Collier, Sarasota, Flagler, and Pasco, according to Vox.

The lack of uniformity, however, has left many residents confused.

Jim Rosica, a reporter with USA Today, tweeted that he had made an appointment for an 87-year-old resident in Tallahassee after a reader told him, "I didn't know what else to do. I called everybody. You're the first to call back."

A reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, Catherine Deborah Davidson-Hiers, also posted on Facebook that her voicemail was full of people asking for help making appointments.

@DavidsonHiers Follow up: I just made an online appointment for an 87 year old Tallahassee man and his wife bc they are "not computer people." They called the newspaper bc, he said, "I didn't know what else to do, I called everybody. You're the first to call back."

Twitter: @JimRosicaFL

Initially, the White House had set a goal of having 20 million vaccine doses administered by the end of December. However, just 4.8 million people had received the first of two doses as of Jan. 5, less than a quarter of the White House's plan, according to the Centers for Disease and Control.

Khatib, who is still trying to help his dad grab an appointment, said the lack of a federal response to the pandemic, including some sort of national explanation about how and when people can get a vaccine, has been frustrating.

"Eventbrite is better than nothing, at least it's a digital platform," Khatib said. "But that's unsettling to me. There should have been a national platform."

His dad only found out about the online system because a nurse he used to work with told him when registration opened. But most elderly residents likely won't have the same kind of help.

"It breaks my heart for people who don't have kids or someone else to help them out," he added. "It pains me what a failure this has all been."

To make matters worse, officials have reported fake Eventbrite sites charging people for vaccine appointments. In Pasco County, several seniors showed up on Monday saying they had an appointment, only to find out they had paid for a fake event, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

A spokesperson for Eventbrite told BuzzFeed News the company has taken down all fake vaccine distribution events, and they are continuing to monitor for any copycats.

"We are continuously monitoring and taking appropriate action," the company said in a statement. "We recommend anyone registering for any COVID-19 related event verify and direct questions to their local health service officials."

But even when they're on the right page, Buonopane, the actor in New York, said it can be overwhelming. He has since signed his mother up for the waiting list, although it's unclear if that means she would be first in line for another date or be called if there's a cancellation.

"This is not how you should get vaccines," he said. "Next to signing up for COVID vaccines you can sign up for the beekeepers of Florida monthly meeting. It's crazy."

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