Health departments in many Florida counties are using event management website Eventbrite to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments for the public. Officials told The Verge that the platform was the easiest way to get vaccinations up and running quickly during the initial rollout, which has been confusing for residents and inconsistent across the state.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis bumped all adults over the age of 65 to the front of the vaccination line along with health care workers and long-term care facility residents — breaking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations around vaccine prioritization, which said essential workers should have first access. That opened up vaccine access to over 4 million people in the state while supplies were still limited, creating overwhelming demand. There was no statewide distribution system in place. Local health departments were charged with creating their own systems to distribute vaccines.
Brevard County on the east coast of the state found out that it would get an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines on December 28th. The Department of Health originally planned to use phone lines to schedule vaccine appointments. But the first day the lines opened, people weren’t able to get through to the number. Jesi Ray, a social media, marketing, and communications specialist for the county, had seen that other places in the state were using Eventbrite.
“I said that this is the way I think we should go,” she told The Verge. “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.”
Within 24 hours of launching the Eventbrite, every vaccination slot in the county for the first vaccine shipment was taken.
Manatee County officials used Eventbrite as a way to distribute vaccines quickly, said Christopher Tittel, communications director for the Department of Health in Manatee. Emergency management officials were already familiar with the platform.
“The state is instructing all counties to push the vaccine out as quickly as possible,” he told The Verge in an email. The faster the doses are distributed, the faster the county will get additional doses.
Eventbrite has worked well so far in Brevard County, Ray says. There was one minor hiccup, though: every question on the sign-up was mandatory, including one asking whether someone was pregnant or breastfeeding. Many people weren’t answering that question. “Either they were male and thought it didn’t apply to them, or they felt like, I’m 65, I don’t need to answer that,” Ray says. “But on the whole, the report that we got back from people was that this was easy.” The county plans to use the system for its next vaccine allotment and hopes to have the phone lines up and running as well.
Eventbrite did not respond to a request for comment.
A system like Eventbrite (or any other online platform) is only available to people who have internet access. It’s most accessible to people who are savvy enough to quickly navigate through a website and grab a spot before they’re full. Relying on these systems for the sake of speed means poor communities and communities of color, which have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, could be shut out.
Ray recognizes that issue. “We know that there are people who can’t get appointments,” she says. “But we needed to get shots in arms, and get people appointments as soon as possible.”