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Florida health officials say that the event management and ticketing platform is the fastest way to get people in for appointments.
As the Covid-19 vaccine rolls out across the country, public health officials in Florida are turning to Eventbrite, the ticketing website more commonly used for concerts and cultural events, to get people scheduled for shots.
Some of the state’s largest counties decided to use Eventbrite after local health department officials concluded that a reservation system would work better than a “first come, first serve” approach that could have seen residents turned away if vaccine allocations for the day ran out.
Though some tech experts praised the state for using Eventbrite instead of building their own proprietary signup platform—especially given the struggles with the state’s unemployment system last year—others warn that an online registration platform could create more problems than it solves. Lack of internet access in poor communities, the threat of scammers and scalpers, and low technological literacy among the elderly are three issues the state will have to deal with when scheduling doses via Eventbrite.
Florida’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has thus far been rocky, with some seniors camped out for hours outside distribution centers while others wait on Eventbrite, constantly refreshing to see if more appointments have been made available. In Sarasota, all 800 spots available on Monday were claimed in less than two minutes.
The Florida Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida received more than 960,000 doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Both vaccines require two shots to reach peak effectiveness.
The state is choosing to first vaccinate those over the age of 65, healthcare workers, and residents of long-term care facilities. These priorities differ slightly from the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents should be first, followed by people over the age of 75 and frontline essential workers such as grocery store workers, firefighters, and postal workers.
The Sunshine State—which has more than 4.1 million people over 65, making its elderly population second in size only to California—has struggled to control the virus, with more than 1.3 million cases as of Jan 5. Of those who died from the virus, 83% were over 65.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last week defended the decision to prioritize seniors instead of essential workers for the first doses of the vaccine. “We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly vulnerable population,” he said. “In Florida, we’ve got to put our parents and grandparents first and that’s what we’re going to be doing. And we’re going to work like hell to be able to get all the vaccines out to elderly who want it.”
Some local health departments have been overwhelmed by calls from people asking for the vaccine—so many that counties are tripling the staff at their call centers and dealing with crashed phone systems.
Public health experts say that it is important to have multiple options for vaccine signups, as many communities lack access to reliable internet, precluding them from using an option like Eventbrite. Low income, Black, and Latino households are least likely to have stable internet connections while also suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus.
Another concern is the level of digital literacy among seniors. As of 2016, one-third of people over 65 said they never used the internet and half didn’t have access at home.
Some counties are also struggling with poser Eventbrite accounts that are scamming seniors into paying for vaccine appointments that should be free. Some elderly people taken in by the scam have shown up at vaccine distribution centers only to be told their appointment was fake.
Pasco and Pinellas Counties warned their residents not to fall for the scheme on social media and their websites. “Be careful not to be fooled by a fake Eventbrite account,” Pasco County officials wrote. “Always use the link provided by [the Department of Health].”
Jesi Ray, a communications specialist for Brevard County, told The Verge that the system isn’t perfect, but that “this is the only option we have right now.”
“This is the quickest, easiest, and most efficient way that we can think of to help the department of health solve this issue right now,” she said. “We know that there are people who can’t get appointments. But we needed to get shots in arms, and get people appointments as soon as possible.”
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.