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Sprawling Florida Retirement Community Faces Epic Delays In COVID-19 Vaccination

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Florida's sprawling retirement community The Villages, the vaccine rollout has been full of problems, and elderly people who live in The Villages are wondering what to do next. Meta Minton is editor of the independent news site Villages News.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

META MINTON: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Who is in charge of vaccine distribution in The Villages, and what's the problem been there?

MINTON: Well, you know, that's the million-dollar question because there doesn't seem to be a lot of accountability. We have a governor that has come here for a couple of high-profile media events, but then when he leaves town, there doesn't seem to be any vaccine. We had a temporary site show up with about 7,500 vaccinations, and they abruptly left town last weekend. So a lot of people who had booked appointments didn't have those appointments fulfilled, and a lot of people who got the first shot are very nervous about how they're even going to get a second shot.

SHAPIRO: Nearly 80,000 people live in The Villages. And so are there any alternative plans for getting them vaccinated?

MINTON: Well, there's the supermarket chain Publix that's doing its best to get it, but they're booked up. People have described to me being on hold for - in a queue on a computer for 90 minutes to two hours and not getting an appointment. Publix is doing its best, and they're going to start trying to sign up people again on Wednesday. But there doesn't appear to be enough vaccine out there to get it into the arms of people.

SHAPIRO: You know, the last time you were on this program was in April, and we were talking about challenges with testing for the coronavirus. That went pretty poorly, too. Do you sense that they learned any lessons from that experience?

MINTON: Well, it's hard to say. Testing has really ramped up here. And there's a lot of testing, but it's kind of the old-fashioned thing. Nobody's that interested in testing anymore. Everybody wants a vaccine. And...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MINTON: They want to get back to life. They want to get back to normal. Most people have been home for a year. A lot of these are elderly people that don't even necessarily walk a dog. So they are really cooped up and tired of it, and they desperately want vaccine. And there's just not a lot of avenues for them out there.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about a particular resident who you've been talking to whose story stands out in your mind?

MINTON: You know, today I was talking to Joyce Berg. She's 80 years old, lives in the village of Mallory Square. She has one lung. She has diabetes. Her husband is 82 years old. And they're in that group of people that I say are the Jitterbug people because they don't have a computer. They don't have an iPad. And so many of these sign-ups are online, and they're confused, and they don't know what to do. So there's a very different class of - the outside world looks at The Villages and thinks we're all retirees. Well, a 65-year-old retiree is a lot different than an 85-year-old retiree.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MINTON: So the 65-year-olds are really at an advantage at getting signed up, and, you know, good for them. But the 85-, 90-year-olds are really having a difficult time.

SHAPIRO: And have there been a lot of cases of the coronavirus lately there?

MINTON: You know, we've had about 1,200 deaths, and we do have a lot of - our case positivity is really high. But, you know, it's odd here. We have two different realities. We have the people who are super-conscious of it and very concerned. My own church had to go kind of on a quasi-lockdown because we had a couple of deaths that seem to be linked to activities.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MINTON: On the other hand, we're starting up festivals here. We're going to have a Mardi Gras...

SHAPIRO: Oh.

MINTON: ...Party here. We're going to have a St. Patrick's Day party here. And so people are maskless, and they don't really seem to care. But then...

SHAPIRO: Yikes.

MINTON: There's the other 50% that are very...

SHAPIRO: I'm afraid we're out of time. We have to leave it there. But, Meta Minton, we appreciate your talking with us. She is editor of the independent Villages News.

Thanks very much.

MINTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.