The city of Gainesville, Florida utilized a tele-townhall meeting to contact over 58,000 residents in order to provide key information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

The call, managed by Telephone Town Hall Meeting (TTHM), provided a significant opportunity for the City of Gainesville to work with its partners to provide the public with vaccine updates. This large virtual forum allowed the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County and Health Affairs at the University of Florida to address COVID-19 vaccine distribution questions.  With tens of thousands of people joining the call and over 100 questions submitted by audience members, the forum was a resounding success in educating and updating residents virtually.

Featured speakers included Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, Ken Cornell – Chair of Alachua County Commission, Paul Myers – Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, Dr. David Nelson – SVP for Health Affairs at University of FL and President of UF Health, Tom Wisninski – Director of VA Hospital, and Eric Lawson – CEO for North Florida Regional Medical Center.  The event began with important updates and continued with live questions from residents in the listening audience.

Gainesville and its partners started by providing important updates:

  • Review the efficacy and safety of FDA-approved vaccines
  • Provide an overview of the vaccination rollout process
  • Discuss vaccines that have already been distributed to healthcare officials
  • Tell residents who is going to be eligible to receive the vaccine in the first waves
  • Estimate how soon vaccines will be available to 1.) Over 65 and members of UF Health, 2.) Over 65 VA patients 3.) All other residents Over 65 4.) Everyone else
  • Go over the current registration/signup list for the vaccine; how and when to register

As the residents of Gainesville have learned first-hand, tele-townhall calls are an effective and needed communications tool to utilize during this pandemic.  Some of the questions answered live during the event were:

  • “I’ve already signed up via the registration process; when will I get the vaccine?”
  • “How do I sign up for the vaccine?”
  • “Are the 4 companies providing the vaccine communicating to prevent people from applying for multiple vaccinations?”
  • “If I’m a UF patient and the Health Dept calls me back first who should I get the vaccine from?”
  • “If I had a reaction to a flu or pneumonia vaccine do you think I should get the COVID vaccine?”
  • “If you’re under 65, will you have to prove you’re high risk in order to get vaccinated?”
  • “If you’re getting your vaccine through the Health Dept, what is the order of who will get vaccinated first?”
  • “Please discuss the RNA and DNA in the Moderna vaccine.”
  • “Discuss the next coming vaccines risks, benefits and when they’ll be coming and distribution of those.”
  • “Why did south FL get the vaccine before Gainesville?”
  • “How does the department/medical centers receive the vaccine? Where does it come from and how is it stored?”
  • “When will they begin vaccinating everyone under 65?”
  • “How long will it take to vaccinate everyone 65 and older?”
  • “How many vaccines are you giving a week?”
  • “Is the Health Department providing vaccines to all the small, local private clinics, and will I be able to get a vaccine from my doctor?”

Curt Cerveny, President of Tele Town Hall Meeting stated, “Counties around the country need to utilize this type of technology to ensure their residents are receiving rapid and accurate information, especially pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine.  Our ability to call hundreds of thousands of people within minutes, provide a live and interactive forum where expert speakers can easily disseminate information – and perhaps more importantly answer live questions – is a communications tool that should be in the arsenal of and utilized by key governing entities during this pandemic.”

As a pioneer in large-scale virtual forums, TTHM has developed a seamless blend of capabilities for each tele-townhall they directly manage.  It all starts with the utilization of a digital signup page to proactively advertise and sign up call participants.  During the forum tens of thousands of residents receive a call and join just by staying on the line.  Callers participated in online surveys that generated immediate results.  TTHM staff collected email addresses from residents to offer crucial updates from the city, while also facilitating interactive Q&A to make sure the live audience could fully participate. Detailed data reports and a recording of the forum follow.

The ability to provide a simulcast in Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese has become one of the most valued services TTHM provides to governments and elected officials looking to connect with under-served members of their communities.  Spanish-speaking residents of Gainesville were given the opportunity to choose a Spanish Simulcast instead of listening in English.  Those participants submitted questions and voted in polls entirely in Spanish, and the city received a separate recording of the live Spanish translation.

The City of Gainesville has regularly held tele-townhalls with residents since 2014.  In 2020, the city held 15 events as Mayor Poe featured expert city, county and medical facility staff to ensure that critical information reached as many residents as possible.  These forums answered hundreds of live questions, provided advice to people and businesses making claims for assistance, and reviewed best practices for riding out the pandemic.

Read about this Telephone Town Hall Meeting event in the Gainesville Sun:
Local leaders talk vaccine availability, safety at town hall