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1st 600 in line today get COVID-19 vaccine in St. Johns County

Hundreds camped out in cars overnight; line at sunrise Saturday morning stretched 3 miles

Line for vaccinations stretches to 3 miles in St. Johns County
Line for vaccinations stretches to 3 miles in St. Johns County

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – COVID-19 vaccines are going fast in St. Johns County and people who qualify are going to extremes to try and get one.

The Moderna vaccine is currently only available for health care workers and people 65 and older, and the Florida Department of Health -- St. Johns County is giving shots throughout the weekend.

They announced just before 9 a.m. Saturday that the first 600 people in line that day would be able to get vaccines. Everyone else was turned away.

“What we’re going to do is distribute 600 armbands now so we don’t have people waiting absolutely any longer than they need to and we can do 600 and we will be here until we get it done,” said Jake Quigley, business manager with the St. Johns County Health Department.

Health officials said people waiting for vaccines on Sunday can expect the same armband process but at this time it’s unclear how many will be distributed.

People Camping In Vaccine Line In St. Johns County
People Camping In Vaccine Line In St. Johns County

After people were turned away when Friday’s allocation was gone before noon, people hoping to get shots on Saturday began lining up in their vehicles on Friday evening. Some people even brought RVs.

A woman in line overnight told News4Jax deputies were called when people started cutting into the line. By dawn, there were hundreds of cars in line outside the St. Johns County Health Department -- backing up about three miles along U.S. 1. New4Jax was told before 8 a.m. the Sheriff’s Office was planning to send deputies to make sure the travel lanes are not blocked and help manage the situation.

The office is scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The health department says if you take a prescribed blood thinner medication, you MUST have a doctor’s note to receive the vaccine.

The health department originally was taking vaccine appointments, but when their phone line crashed, they no longer required appointments, creating frustration and long lines.

A county commissioner said the health department has accepted an offer of help from the county to assist with distribution of the vaccine, but no changes to its plans have been announced.

Officials say 340 people got the vaccine before the St. Johns County health office closed on Friday and those who got in line that evening said they were determined to get theirs. Officials say more than one-third of the 3,000 doses of Moderna vaccine it has received so far have been used.

“I decided I was going to come today,” said Joan Tischer, who arrived at 6 p.m. Friday so she could be first in line. “It’s not as bad waiting here as it is spending a night in the ICU.”

St. Johns County residents camp out overnight to get vaccine on Saturday
St. Johns County residents camp out overnight to get vaccine on Saturday

Tischer said there needs to be fairness and transparency in the process, adding that it was worth the 15-hour wait overnight to get her shot Saturday morning.

“The reason I arrived at 6:30 is because there’s very few parking spaces over there that are safe,” Tischer said. “I feel like I won the lottery.”

Zahir and Janet Jamal both got the first round of the Moderna shot after waiting 13 hours. They’re concerned for others who are considered the most vulnerable who can’t camp out all night long.

“We were lucky. We were able to get here, but many won’t, and that’s a concern for the public in general,” Zahir Jamal said.

Amal Soni helped his parents set up their RV in the line.

“They’re both over 65. There’s a lot of people in the household that are high risk. My wife has diabetes, so we wanted to make sure that they were safe,” Soni said.

Earlier Friday, long lines of cars waited outside the health department for the second day in a row. Health officials said the day’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines was gone in 2½ hours.

It’s uncertain how the county will handle giving out the second dose of the vaccine, which is necessary to get the full protection the vaccine offers.

“At this time we don’t have information on when that allotment will come to St. Johns County, but the plan is we should have it, get back in contact with them -- or, if it’s available within the community, they can go to a provider carrying that particular vaccine,” said Noreen Nickola-Williams with the health department. “Given the scenario that we’re in, it’s probably best if individuals reach out to manage their own care.”

St. Johns County will continue vaccinations beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday.

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Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.