Louis Llovio | Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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Manatee County is creating a lottery system in order to make sure all residents have an opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The County Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt the plan.
Jacob Saur, the county’s director of public safety, told commissioners that the county is asking residents to either register online or to call in to get their names in a system.
When vaccine doses are available, a “randomized” list of people will get an appointment for the vaccine.
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The new system, which includes a new website, will be online at 10 p.m. Thursday. The web address will be announced Thursday.
Along with the website, the county will also add 311 operators to get people’s information into the system. The county usually staffs four 311 operators but will also staff 30 additional phone lines at its emergency center, and can add more staff if necessary, Saur said.
When the system is up and running, people will be able to go online or call 311 and pre-register by filling out a form. They will then get a confirmation number verifying they have been added to the pool.
When vaccine doses are available, people will be randomly chosen and the county will create an appointment using Eventbrite.
“That way,” said Paul Alexander, director of information technology for the county, “when the vaccine comes in, there won’t be a mad rush.”
Manatee is moving away from its current appointment system, which has led to huge backups and angered citizens unable to get one of the limited and coveted time slots.
The new system is a response to those complaints, as well as concerns about people without technological access or knowledge getting shut out of the process.
Despite the public outcry, commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, District 3, said the county was a “rock star” and doing “a fantastic job.”
The biggest challenge the county has faced is a limited number of vaccines, officials said.
That, coupled with the use of Eventbrite, a system designed for promoters to sell event tickets, has made getting a spot for an appointment a maddening affair.
Alexander said one reason was that the county’s computer system was unprepared for the volume of web traffic that came when the vaccine became available.
He said the county website typically sees an average of 100,000 visitors each week. Last week, 371,000 logged on in one day.
“The way the system works now,” he said. “When doses come in, something is posted on the website, everyone tries to get an appointment, everything crashes.”
By moving to the new system and allowing people to sign up at any time, the county is making getting an appointment easier, convenient and equitable, Saur said.
“We don’t want to push them out because they can’t get to their computers fast enough,” he said.
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But Saur cautioned that getting a vaccine was still going to take time and urged patience until the county receives more doses.
The county has asked for 6,000 more doses, but the state didn’t have them available at this time, he said.
“We believe once we get the supply, we can ramp it up to 2,000 a day,” Saur said.
County Administrator Cheri Coryea said the new system will also allow the county to get a better feel for who wants the vaccine, allowing officials to adjust the distribution process in response.