ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – People who fit the criteria to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines in St. Johns County lined up in their cars beginning at 4:30 a.m. Friday, hoping to get a shot before the Health Department office closed on New Year’s Day.
Health workers opened the line at 9 a.m. to vaccinate health care workers and those 65 years and older.
The day’s allocation of 340 shots was gone in 2½ hours. Another 383 vaccines were administered at the St. Johns County Fire-Rescue site. The health office was supposed to be open until 3 p.m. Friday, but deputies began turning people away around 11:30 a.m.
A healthcare worker who made the cut got one of the first doses of the vaccine Friday.
“It just helps us have peace of mind when we’re working with our clients and the clients can have peace of mind knowing that it’s safe to be with us too,” said Licensed Clinical Social Worker Ambria Page. “I think the hardest part was waiting in line. I was there for about 7 hours. I got there at 7:30 and the line was heading up US 1 already.”
Page said she tried to get the vaccine on Thursday with her co-workers, but didn’t make the cut.
Page says it took roughly 30 minutes to finish the vaccine process. Having been infected with the virus before, Page says she wants to make sure she doesn’t contract the virus again.
So far, Page says she hasn’t had any issues with reacting to the vaccine and said the long line was worth it.
The health department announced that its office -- on San Sebastian View, off U.S. 1 about 1 mile north of State Road 16 -- will reopen to distribute more vaccines from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
After a day of confusion Thursday over COVID-19 vaccines that prompted long lines at the office, Jake Quigley, the business manager for the county health department, told News4Jax there is no need for an appointment to receive the vaccine.
That prompted George Macgown and his wife to get up early to be first in line Friday.
“I’m here because I knew that was the case -- after being here yesterday and the whole operation was basically out of control,” Macgown said.
According to Quigley, the phone system to schedule appointments crashed and there’s currently no way to reserve a spot. The department’s website said all appointments for this week were taken, but some of the 280 vaccines given Thursday were to people who didn’t have appointments. Quigley acknowledged there is confusion and frustration surrounding the department’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Late Thursday, County Commissioner wrote to the health department offering help to smooth distribution of the vaccine, saying “it has become apparent to St. Johns County, and the public as a whole, that the Department of Health in St. Johns County requires additional assistance in order to complete this critical mass vaccination mission.”
On Friday, Blocker said the health department accepted the help.
“We talked today and the health department formally requested our assistance in that regard and we’re looking at expanding the vaccination effort starting next week,” said Blocker, District 4 county commissioner.
The county is working with health officials to expect the number of sites where the vaccine will be offered.
“That way, we can disperse the number of citizens,” Blocker said. “We want to improve the sign-up process because, right now, that system is broken and not functional, and that’s disconcerting.”
Before Dawn New Year’s Day
More than 32 cars were in line outside the St. Johns County Health Department when News4Jax arrived at 6:15 a.m. The cars backed up onto U.S. 1.
Mary Bennett got there at 6:30 a.m. Friday because she was turned away yesterday after spending four hours in line.
“I got sent home because they were out of vaccine, so I was told to come back early this morning,” Bennett said. “I wish I come earlier.”
There’s a massive demand outweighing the supply of vaccines. Quigley said more than 55,000 people 65 and above living in St. Johns County would qualify for the shots, but only 3,000 vaccines were distributed to the county so far. People who were able to make appointments were not given preferential treatment, but waited in the same first-come, first-served line. Officials are urging patience.
“This was never going to be done in a day or a week or even a month,” Quigley said. “I would say this is a once-in-100-year thing. Mistakes will be made along the way. We did what we did with best of intentions, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get the vaccine into the arms of the most vulnerable population.”
Bry Friday afternoon, the health department said at least 915 of the county’s 3,000 available doses have been administered. Those who receive vaccines are given a card with a date for them to get their second dose. Those appointments will be scheduled later.
The line in St. John’s County is growing to try to get the first 3,000 of the county’s vaccines. We have learned you do NOT need an appointment. This after the phone lines crashed. Officials say they have the #Vaccine sitting in freezer their goal is to get shots in arms. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/kspLhKX0UC— Brittany Muller (@BrittMullerNews) January 1, 2021
On Friday, St. Johns County Department of Health announced that anyone seeking a COVID-19 vaccination who takes prescribed blood thinner medications must bring a doctor’s note to receive a vaccination.
To receive timely updates regarding the Department of Health in St. Johns County’s COVID-19 vaccination program, text SJCVACCINE to 888777. For more information, visit www.sjcfl.us/coronavirusvaccinations.
In Duval, Clay and Putnam counties the health departments have made it clear people who show up without appointments will NOT receive a vaccination shot. Duval and Clay are beginning vaccinations to health care workers and people 65 and above on Monday -- but by appointment only.