MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jackson Memorial Hospital opened its website portal on Tuesday for the general public who are 65 years old and up to make an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the site was quickly overwhelmed.

A spokeswoman told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that as many as 80,000 people went online for the 12,000 appointments. Hundreds who were able to get appointments for Tuesday flocked to the Lynn Rehabilitation Center—-one of three sites along with Jackson South Medical Center in S.W. MIami-Dade and North Dade Health Center in Miami Gardens. For hours there was a long line wrapped around the Rehab Center.

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Anita Weltz and her husband Murray from Bal Harbour were able to get their vaccinations. “I went on line this morning about 1030 and at about 1045 I was able to get an appointment the same day. I am thrilled. I am thrilled. My husband is a COVID survivor. And we are very happy to know we got it. We can relax and we will be back in 3 weeks.”

Murray Weltz said “I am excited. It was one less headache. I was really sick from it. I was in the hospital for a total of 9 weeks.”

In Coconut Grove, Lisa Treister was going to try to get her appointment at 11 a.m. until a neighbor called her around 1000 am to say the website was taking appointments.

“I heard from a neighbor and I ran and got on,” she said. “It took about 15 minutes to make an appointment. I am thrilled to be able to get a vaccine and do things again and see my grandchild. The main thing is that I did not want to get sick. I had health issues in the past.”

Mauri Laden had hoped to get a vaccine. “I am very eager to get the vaccine,” she told D’Oench. “I don’t want to get sick and this is the best way to prevent it. I just don’t want to get sick. I have lots of underlying conditions. I still have a lot I want to do and I don’t want to get sick from COVID-19.”

She thought she could get an appointment by going on time at the recommended time of 11 a.m. “I was able to go through the whole process until I came to where you schedule it and it wouldn’t let me put in the day or time.”

“I am pretty persistent and I will keep trying but someone has got to get ahold of this and make sure these websites work,” she said.

Laden will apparently have to wait until next Monday when a new round of appointments should open up.

“We will have 2,000 daily appointments for vaccinations. The intent is to vaccinate 14,000 people a week which is the current allocation that we have from the state,” said Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya during a news conference on Monday afternoon with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The website went live two hours earlier than planned, around 9:00 a.m., instead of the previously announced 11:00 a.m.

Those who logged on early got appointments.  Those who waited until 11:00 a.m. were shut out, which was frustrating to many people.

“We committed to launching the online platform by 11 a.m. Knowing that other providers have been overwhelmed by sudden spikes in calls or web traffic, we were able to launch our system slightly early,” read a statement provided by Jackson Health System. “We managed to fill all 12,000 initial appointment slots with minimal disruptions and no crashes, despite more than four times the normal daily traffic on our website. We know many people are disappointed that they were not able to secure an appointment in this first wave, and we will continue opening more appointment slots online as we secure additional vaccine.”

Jackson Health said the 12,000 slots filled up in less than two hours.

“We realize this vaccine is in high demand, and we will continue to open more slots as we receive additional vaccines. Information will continue to be updated on JacksonHealth.org and through Jackson’s social media channels. As we navigate through this unprecedented, logistically complex vaccine distribution, Jackson’s top priority is inoculating as many eligible people in our community as we can,” read a statement from the hospital system.

Once a person is registered, they will receive a call back with an appointment date and time.

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No proof of residency is required, which means you do not need to live in Miami-Dade to get the vaccine.

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Migoya said there are big plans with the website.

“We feel within 2 to 3 weeks we can gear this up to 60 to 75,000 people a week and if we do that we will vaccinate 60 percent of over those 65 in Miami-Dade County where there happen to be a total of 465,000 people in that age group and we hope to take care of them by the end of January, early February and then open it up to the next level of patients.”

It’s the next step in trying to curb cases of the coronavirus.

“The focus here has been health care workers and those older than 65. Once we help everyone there we can open it up to the next high risk part of the population and go forward,” said Migoya. “We are giving vaccines out fast and if we get it we will not held back as the supply is coming. We have already vaccinated 20,000 health care workers.”

Scheduled vaccinations will take place at three locations:

  • Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center, 1611 NW 12th Ave., Miami
  • North Dade Health Center, 16555 NW 25th Ave., Miami Gardens
  • Jackson South Medical Center, 9333 SW 152nd St., Southwest Miami-Dade

All three sites will be open seven days a week.

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Meantime, as seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccination sites across South Florida and other parts of the state, frustrations are mounting over crashing appointment websites, and jammed phone lines.

In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work more quickly to administer vaccines to Floridians who are 65 and older. DeSantis promised he would strip allotments from hospitals that don’t use them quickly enough and shift the doses to other health-care providers.

He also outlined several other steps the state plans to take to amplify vaccination efforts, including converting state-run testing sites into vaccination centers, having the state hire 1,000 extra nurses to administer shots and using churches as part of an effort to target underserved communities. DeSantis also said sites that provide vaccinations should do it seven days a week.

Under DeSantis’ lead, Florida has parted from federal guidelines on how to use the vaccines.

On Dec. 23, the governor issued an executive order that made people 65 and older a priority for vaccinations, as opposed to “essential” workers such as teachers, first responders and grocery-store employees.

Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million people 65 years or older, which drives up the demand for vaccinations. But DeSantis defended the decision to move away from the federal guidelines, which also included vaccinating people 75 and older.

As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders — although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older.

The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which means that 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians.

Both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later. Some hospitals, out of caution, may be reluctant to immediately use their entire stockpile because of uncertainty over the future supply of the vaccines.

About 83% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Peter D'Oench