JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County Health Department will begin giving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines Monday to anyone 65 years of age and older and health care workers lucky enough to get an appointment on the first day.
A phone line that opened Wednesday to book appointments was deluged and failed to connect the vast majority of people who called, causing frustration and outrage. When online scheduling went live just after 5 p.m. Thursday, it took less than 90 minutes for the rest of this week’s appointments to be filled.
The vaccines will be given at the Prime Osborn Convention Center and 500 appointments were scheduled for Monday. The department hopes to scale up to 1,000 appointments each day over time. The vaccines are free of charge and a second dose will be needed for it to be as effective as possible.
The health department put out this information to people coming to get vaccinated:
- All individuals are required to wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing during the appointment.
- You’ll need to show a government-issued ID
- There are no restrooms available for use during the appointment.
- Walk-ins will NOT be allowed.
Officials hope that requiring appointments will limit the lines and wait times for each person. Filling out the consent form (available online) will also speed the process.
There will be seven lanes set up for people to come in at their appointment time to get the vaccine. Then they have to wait 15 minutes to make sure there are no adverse reactions. Health care workers will be there to monitor those people.
Don’t expect confirmation/reminder
Many who were able to book appointments online were hoping to get a confirmation email or text confirmation, but Samantha Epstein with the health department said that won’t happen, although they are working to make the process more efficient.
“We understand there are some questions and concerns about the online appointment system. We would like to thank the community for its patience as we continue to work on making this process more efficient,” she wrote to News4Jax on Friday, and added these notes about booking appointments, which they hope to reopen this week:
- We have identified that people are making multiple appointments online. Please do not do this as it bogs down the system and takes time slots away from others.
- Be sure to select a date and time before you submit your form. If there is not a date/time slot available on the form, do not submit the form. If you do submit the form without a date/time slot, the form will be deleted and you will not have an appointment.
- You will see a confirmation message (pop-up) after the appointment is set. You WILL NOT receive a confirmation email. Please take a screenshot of the confirmation message to keep for your records, although that is not required to receive the vaccine.
The link to make an appointment -- jax.readyop.com/fs/4cc6/8521 -- will remain on duval.floridahealth.gov. People will be asked to enter their name, email, phone number and date of birth to book their time. No insurance information is required.
Anyone 65 years old and above and any health care worker who has not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine can receive their first dose of the vaccine in Duval County. There is no residency requirement, although people are encouraged to get the vaccine in the county where they live.
“This vaccine is not limited by boundaries. It’s provided by the federal government,” said Dr. Pauline Rolle, the medical executive director of the FDOH-Duval. “We’re providing it for free and so with that, even if you’re not a Duval resident, you could still be vaccinated through us, but please keep in mind other counties will be rolling out their vaccination efforts, so we encourage people to get vaccinated in their own counties but certainly, we will service anyone from any county.”
Phone line failure
Some callers got the health department’s outgoing message, then got a fast busy signal or the call abruptly ended. Many callers got a message that the call could not be completed, or even that the line was out of service. Officials urged patience and to keep trying.
“If you are 65+ and trying to call for an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine, the Duval County Health Department says that the phone lines are working and please keep calling 253-1140,” the city wrote on its Facebook page Wednesday. “We are receiving a high volume of calls, so callers may not get through right away. We ask that callers bear with us as we try to get to every individual. Every appointment matters to us.”
News4Jax heard from dozens of people frustrated by the inability to get through. A health care worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was able to book an appointment after calling 950 times over a span of two hours.
“I made a plan ahead of time,” she said. “I had two cellphones and my business phone set up on my computer and I actually started calling a couple minutes before 8 a.m. and just systematically kept rolling through each phone.”
When it came to how fast she could make the appointment:
“The call itself probably lasted about one minute,” she said. “Set the appointment up and that was it.”
The health care worker says she has direct contact with potential COVID-19 patients on a daily basis.
“Within our organization, we’ve had a couple people die secondary with complications with COVID. And I have an older family member that lives in my home, and to have the opportunity to have the vaccination for myself and eventually for him is important, and I know it will help protect us,” she said.
Front-line workers at local hospitals first began receiving their shots two weeks ago at UF Health Jacksonville, followed by other medical centers. CVS and Walgreen’s are currently working with the state to vaccinate staff and residents at long-term care facilities.