SEBRING — Registration started up again Monday for seniors 65 and older to get their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations from the county.

County staff hope the new system will simplify and clarify the process and ensure people complete the registration process fully. It also reminds people to watch their phone and/or email closely afterward for county officials to confirm an appointment for noon to 4 p.m. on either a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

“People have said that it is way easier,” said Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski, who said a previous snag was that people didn’t know they had to scroll down and click another button to complete registration. “Now you just have to click ‘next’ and ‘next’ and ‘next’.”

She and Assistant County Public Information Officer Karen Clogston released orientation information over the weekend, including a YouTube.com registration tutorial video.

The COVID-19 vaccine requires a second dose, given 28 days after the first. In that meantime, people must still wash their hands, social distance and wear a face mask — especially when social distancing is difficult to do — to slow the spread of the virus.

{strong style=”font-size: 1.17em;”}Register{/strong}

Vaccinations are still only by appointment at the county’s point of distribution (POD) at Lakeshore Mall, 901 U.S. 27 North in Sebring. People can get registered online at bit.ly/HCvaccine or by phone at 863-402-6780, starting at 8 a.m. Monday — but not on site.

The online portal and the hotline will stay open everyday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for people to get on the appointment waiting list. Call volume is high, and officials ask people to be patient:

1. You must either go online or call to register your name, date of birth and contact information.

2. Your name then goes on a waiting list, not an actual appointment. You may see an option to put in a spouse or family member’s name to set appointments close to each other, but entering that name will not register that person.

3. Each person will need to register individually. If you have more than one in your household who qualifies for a vaccine at this time, make sure to register both separately.

4. Appointments will get confirmed and scheduled each week based on the number of vaccine doses the county receives from the Florida Department of Health. If the county receives 100 doses from the state, for example, staff will contact the next 100 people on the waiting list to set an appointment that week.

5. Once staff contacts you with an appointment time and date, you have 24 hours to confirm that appointment. If staff does not hear back from you in that 24-hour period, they will move your name to the following week’s appointment list.

6. Appointment times and dates are limited and county staff cannot change appointments times and dates in a given week.

Those who register for a vaccination appointment will need to provide photo identification at the site as proof that they are 65 or older. They do not, however, need proof of insurance.

Already registered

Those who got a registration number on Jan. 4 but did not get an appointment that week should call 863-402-6780 to set up that appointment. Emergency Manager LaTosha Reiss said the county gets limited shipments of the vaccine every week, so appointments are also limited each week.

“Don’t worry if you don’t get in on the first try, because there will be more appointment opportunities,” Reiss said.

Rybinski said, as of Monday, approximately 2,305 people had called in with registration numbers from Jan. 4 and will need to get worked into the next few weeks’ allotments. To date, more than 8,000 have registered using the new online portal, she said.

However, this week’s allotment, Rybinski said, is 500 doses.

{strong style=”font-size: 1.17em;”}Where to go{/strong}

Those with confirmed appointments should use the west entrance, at the backside of the mall, nearest the old Kmart location. Signs will direct them where to go. Each person must fill out a pre-vaccination form and must expect to spend an hour to get through all the stations at the POD, in addition to the wait time to get in.

Everyone is asked to wear a mask while on site for safety purposes. If you do not have one, staff will provide one to you. Also, before you leave your home, please make sure you put on clothing that lets you expose your upper arm easily for the shot.

How many done?

The Florida Department of Health for Highlands and DeSoto Counties reports that 1,873 doses have been given out in Highlands County so far. Last week, the county POD gave 270 on Tuesday, 290 on Thursday and 300 on Saturday, for a total of 860 at the POD.

On Dec. 23, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-135 to outline who would get the vaccine first in Florida: Those 65 and older, front line high-risk healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

The Highlands County Health Department has vaccinated front line healthcare workers, like Highlands County Fire Rescue paramedics and EMTs, and hospitals have offered the vaccine to personnel with direct patient contact.

DeSantis has yet to offer guidance on what other demographics are next in line to receive the vaccine.