ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – So far, the St. Johns County health department’s effort to administer its allotment of COVID-19 vaccines has been an exercise in chaos.
The department hopes to change that with help from the county government, which is stepping in to take over the logistics of distributing the coveted vaccines.
After several complaints of disorganization and long lines creating unsafe conditions in the county, vaccines will be given by appointment ONLY in the county, starting Monday.
County administrator Hunter Conrad said Saturday that the slots for Monday have already been filled by the 200 people on the health department’s waitlist.
New appointments, which will be available only to health care workers and those age 65 and up, won’t open until the county receives another shipment of vaccines, which could be sometime next week, although the health department doesn’t know when or how many doses that will include.
“Ultimately this is a resource and manpower issue. That’s why the county has stepped up,” Conrad said.
[WATCH: Press play below to see SJC officials provide update on vaccine distribution -- starts about 5 minutes in]
Starting Monday, the vaccines will be given -- again, by appointment ONLY -- at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center off State Road 207 in St. Augustine (1300 Duval St.)
When appointments open, Conrad said, first doses will be given from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and second doses will be administered (by appointment ONLY) from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Conrad emphasized that anyone coming to the Calhoun Center without an appointment will be turned away.
When vaccine distribution first started, the phone lines crashed, but Conrad said the county has a plan to deal with the demand.
“If somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, the system went down,’ we anticipate using Eventbrite to do the booking system and so if for some reason it does go down, we’ll have people on standby waiting to help those people who are questioning that,” Conrad said.
He said updates will be provided at www.sjcfl.us/coronavirusvaccinations or by phone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week at 904-295-3711.
He said St. Johns County residents can sign up for text alerts on vaccinations by texting SJCVACCINE to 888-777. He said that would be the quickest way to be alerted when new appointment slots open up for registration.
“COVID-19 vaccinations are our best option to get back to normal life as soon as possible,” said St. Johns County health department medical director Dr. Dawn Allicock. “While we wait for this life-saving vaccine, we must continue to be vigilant to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community.”
Allicock pointed to recent record increases in COVID-19 cases in the county over the last week as she asked everyone to continue to socially distance, wear masks and stay home when they’re sick.
For several days, the county health department has offered COVID-19 vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis. That led to hundreds have people desperate to get the vaccine lining up in their cars for miles at the distribution site.
“I like the first come, first served because to me, I mean, yes, it’s a little more complicated, but if they just put up signs where to park so everyone will be in line, it won’t be confusing,” Janice Campued said.
After many people camped out in their cars overnight to be sure of a spot in line, the health department opted Saturday to hand out 600 armbands and turn everyone else away.
Armbands will be given out again Sunday as the health department finishes its last day of first come, first served vaccinations. They have not said how many vaccines will be given Sunday.
“I think what’s been evident to the public up to this point is that we’ve had some significant challenges,” county commissioner Jeremiah Blocker said. “We knew coming into this that there was going to be high demand and limited resources.”
He added that the county taking over the logistics should help alleviate many of the issues residents have seen so far.