Duval County health department to add new COVID-19 vaccine appointments weekly

Announcement came on same day Jacksonville seniors began getting shots

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health in Duval County announced Monday night that new appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine will be added through the online system every Thursday at 5 p.m.

The health department said the link will change each week and will be posted on the alerts page on the department’s website: http://duval.floridahealth.gov.

The announcement came on the same day the first seniors and health care workers who did not get a shot from their employer began receiving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville.

Even though people were told to only show up 15 minutes before their appointments, more than 100 people were in line when the doors opened at 8:45 a.m. After the first hour, when many people showed up either without appointments or who had forgotten when it was, the lines dropped to only a handful of people. Most said the process went quickly -- sometimes getting their shot before their actual appointment time.

There are no appointments available for the rest of the week.

Heather Huffman, interim director of the state Department of Health in Duval County, told The Morning Show on Tuesday that 4,000 people made mistakes when they booked their appointments last Thursday. They did not submit a time or date but their appointment still appeared to be confirmed. The health department tried to contact all those people Sunday through text, email and robocalls, but some may not have received the message and may show up this week and get the bad news.

Huffman explained that the form to submit this Thursday -- when the next appointments will be available -- will look different from last week, so don’t be confused. It’s been redesigned to avoid the problems of not submitting a date or time.

Huffman urged everyone to NOT call the health department number that was sent out last week (904-253-1140) to make appointments over the phone. The department is NOT taking appointments at that line. Operators are only able to answer questions about how to make an appointment but will not be making any appointments.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also said during a Monday afternoon news conference that additional vaccination locations will be announced soon.

“We understand the frustration,” Curry said. “People are scared and want this vaccine, and we are going to do everything we can as partners to get it to the most vulnerable and get it to the entire population.”

Curry said the Prime Osborn location can give up to 900 vaccines a day. He said the plan is to keep up those numbers for three weeks. In four weeks, the mayor said, the city plans to give out 1,600 doses a day, as well as start giving out second doses.

The Florida Department of Health in Duval County said that right now, Jacksonville has a total of 39,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine to distribute, but it’s unknown how much it will get next week.

“We will be getting additional allocations each week,” said Huffman. “We do not know that number. It comes out each week, and as we get those, we will open more available slots to the community.”

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 and insurance information. You will not be required to pay anything, but the insurance company will be.
  • Walk-ins will NOT be allowed.
  • Only show up 15 minutes before your appointment.
  • Restrooms are available to those waiting for vaccines -- a change from the information provided last week.

Huffman said that if you cannot remember what time you set your appointment for, “do not just simply show up.”

“We are only going to be able to see people who show up at the time they were scheduled,” Huffman said. “So what we are asking you to do is to schedule another appointment.”

Officials hoped 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 after getting the shot to make sure there are no adverse reactions. Health care workers will be there to monitor those people.

Also, once you get the vaccine, you will receive a card that says when you need to get that second dose, but you will be in charge of setting that appointment up.

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine in Northeast Florida: What we know by county

Huffman acknowledged the system was not ready for the amount the people who signed up last week.

“The process of these vaccines coming out is coming out faster than the statewide reservation system that is currently under development,” Huffman said.

Don’t expect confirmation/reminder

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.

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.

A glitch was discovered that allowed people to submit a form online without picking an appointment date/time.

“We have identified the individuals that submitted an invalid online form and sent an email notification to them (Sunday),” Epstein said Monday. “A robo call was also sent to them. We encourage all individuals (who believe they have a confirmed appointment) to check their email and voicemail before coming out to the Prime Osborn. If they received one of these notifications, they will be required to set a new appointment. We will be opening up appointments for the week of January 11, very soon.”

The health department also sent this advice for making appointments online:

  • 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.
Pop-up appears after booking a COVID-19 vaccine online with the Duval County Health Department is the only confirmation the individual will receive.
Pop-up appears after booking a COVID-19 vaccine online with the Duval County Health Department is the only confirmation the individual will receive.

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.

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 state Department of Health in Duval County. “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.”

Florida resident Bob West said he believes he was one of the first to set an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine in Jacksonville this week.

“I think it’s going to be a madhouse,” said West.

West said his concern now is not getting a confirmation for his appointment, not allowing him to get the vaccine.

“What I don’t understand is how they would have a system where you go online and make an appointment and not have any way to confirm it with the people making the appointment,” said West.

West said he’s gathered his paperwork and plans to pay close attention to how the appointments go tomorrow before his appointment later this week.

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