JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he expects Florida will open up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults “way before May 1.”
The statement comes after the state on Monday announced federal vaccination sites in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa will extend their administration of first-dose shots another two weeks and dropped the vaccine age requirement to 50 and older.
Monday was the first day Floridians 50 to 59 years old were eligible to receive COVID-19 shots. It was also the first time in a week all five federal- and state-supported vaccination sites in Duval County administered more than 60% of their total vaccine supply. Despite the improvement, the five sites collectively had the capacity to vaccinate an additional 2,500 people on Monday.
Federal- and state-run sites across Duval County have struggled for weeks to administer as many doses as they have available. The day before the vaccine age requirement dropped to 50 and over, the federal vaccination site at Gateway Mall administered shots to 500 people. It had the capacity to vaccinate 3,000, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Critics of Florida’s vaccine rollout have blamed low turnout at vaccination clinics to strict age and medical requirements, specifically the required Florida Department of Health form that physicians must sign to prove their patients under 50 are ”extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19.
Britney Pierre, 21, was able to get a shot at the federal site at Gateway Mall because of her job as a research assistant.
“I walked in, they were, like, ‘Oh, I don’t think you can get it because you have don’t have a paystub,’” Pierre said. “Luckily, another person came out and said we are eligible. After that, it was smooth sailing from there.”
Pierre argues that people her age should also be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable populations.
“I understand getting the older generations too because they are the most vulnerable, but it will also help to cut down the group of people spreading it as well,” said Pierre.
In addition to retail pharmacies and federally-supported and state-run vaccination sites in Jacksonville, a pop-up vaccination clinic near Jacksonville’s historic Springfield neighborhood was set up Tuesday. The clinic offered 250 shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine without appointments. That brand of the vaccine has been sought after but has been in short supply in Florida.
LaToya Shelton, 36, is an attorney in Jacksonville. Shelton said she is medically vulnerable and came to the pop-up vaccination clinic specifically to get a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“It’s been kind of confusing where you can get it at, where you can go,” Shelton said. “This was particular information, straightforward, here is when you can go.”
The state’s capacity to give first doses at the federally-supported sites in Florida will decrease this week. Starting Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hub vaccination sites in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa will each be able to administer 500 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine per day through April 7.
The FEMA satellite sites at Oceanway Community Center on Jacksonville’s Northside and the Carver Center in Jacksonville Beach will move back to their original locations at Normandy Community Center and Hammond Senior Center and will only provide second doses for returning patients.
Starting April 14, the Florida Division of Emergency Management is expecting a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that will be offered to people seeking their first shots.
While the now-largest vaccination site in Jacksonville is making a major shift in operations Wednesday, retail pharmacies and state-run sites, like the ones at Regency Square Mall and Edward Waters College, are still expected to continue to receive the same amount of doses to continue vaccinating people looking for their first shots.