Officials: Expansion of Hillsborough County, Tampa vaccination efforts depend on supply

The state health department says it is waiting for more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine -- and so is Hillsborough County.

The number of delivered doses varies week by week. The city of Tampa says it has a plan to open more vaccination sites but getting enough doses of the vaccine seems to be the issue. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says the city is prepared to open more vaccination sites as soon as those vials arrive.

9,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Hillsborough County last week and the local Florida Department of Health is waiting to see how many it will get this week.

LINK: COVID-19 vaccine distribution information in Tampa Bay area counties

"Each week we have that allocation, and it may increase, it may decrease in the future, each week we'll find out how much vaccine will enter the department of health in Hillsborough County," explained Kevin Watler of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.

The amount of vaccine sites depends on how many doses the county gets. There are three sites in Hillsborough County right now. The city of Tampa opened a fourth site last weekend at a church.

With a goal to make the vaccine more accessible for people 65 and older in underserved communities, Mayor Castor says she wants to open more sites around Tampa but not enough doses have been distributed yet.

Seniors report 6-hour hold times on vaccine registration phone line

For many Hillsborough County residents over 65, getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine has not been easy. Some faced 6-hour wait times on the phones while others said the online portal kicked them off after multiple attempts.

The Department of Health says each week, it's a waiting game.

"The federal government gets it to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, then it gets distributed to the county health departments, so from there we get an allocation at our local health department, of course we're not the only ones in the county receiving the vaccine," Watler explained.

It's allocated to local hospitals, as well; all part of phase one, where people who are 65 and older can make an appointment to get the vaccine.

The Florida Department of Health says phase two will include people who have a high risk of developing a severe illness.

That phase is supposed to begin in March, depending on how many doses are manufactured and sent to Florida.

"Now it's just a waiting game we have to continue to be patient and one thing I really want to stress is, even though you might get the vaccine, you still have to continue wearing your mask and avoid large gatherings you can't drop your guard yet," Watler said.

Phase three will mean anyone who wants to get a vaccine will be able to get one. The Florida Department of Health says that should start happening in April.