JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mix-ups and headaches continued Saturday for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Duval County. Several people showed up at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, saying they were given appointment times for Saturday.
But a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Duval County said the department never had weekend appointments available.
News4Jax got several reports and complaints from those who showed up at the Duval County vaccine site downtown Saturday morning, only to find the site completely empty with no personnel in sight.
Debra Harvey told News4Jax when she made an appointment by phone on Dec. 30, she was given a Jan. 9 slot.
“When I arrived, there were a couple of us and a few people milling around,” Harvey said of her experience Saturday. “We stood around in circles.”
Harvey said it took 200 times and about seven hours to finally get through on the phone line Dec. 30. When she arrived this morning, there were nearly a dozen people there also.
“Someone in the parking lot got ahold of the health department’s answering service who said that the appointments today were canceled and someone was supposed to have gotten back to all of us to reschedule, but obviously they didn’t,” said Harvey. “As this was going on, more and more people were driving in.”
When News4Jax asked the health department about the mix-up, we were told that Saturday and Sunday appointments should not have been offered. The site is open only Monday-Friday.
“We are in the process of determining how appointments scheduled for today were set, as we currently do not offer Saturday and Sunday COVID-19 vaccinations,” spokesperson Samantha Epstein said in a statement. “We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience. The good news is, these individuals have been rescheduled for another appointment. If they haven’t had a chance to reschedule, we should be in touch with them to assist.”
Harvey said she’s angry.
“I’m sort of appalled that this rollout has gone so terribly awry, and I don’t understand why they’re not giving shots seven days a week,” Harvey said. “I mean, we’re in a pandemic. This is a crisis.”
Hours later, the health department called Harvey to re-schedule her for Monday morning.
When the health department first offered appointments for COVID-19 vaccines to anyone 65 and older and health care workers, it was by phone only. The phone line was slammed Dec. 30 as soon as it opened, with many getting messages that their call could not be completed or a fast busy signal. The system failed to connect the vast majority of the people who called.
The health department then launched an online system and stopped taking appointments by phone. New appointments are added to the online system every Thursday at 5 p.m., but so far, they have filled up quickly. It took less than 90 minutes for last week’s appointments to be filled, and next week’s appointments went even faster -- after the system rebooted.
The health department said nearly 400,000 people were on the website when the new appointments went live this Thursday, and the third party administering the site thought it was a cyberattack and shut down the system. The health department sorted out the mistake, but the appointments were all booked up within minutes of the system coming back online.
At one point a gitch was discovered that allowed people to submit a form online without picking an appointment date/time. That has since been fixed with an update to the online form, but the system is still not able to send email confirmations.
The health department 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.
Heather Huffman, interim director of the state Department of Health in Duval County, 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 this week. “So what we are asking you to do is to schedule another appointment.”
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.
New appointments for the COVID-19 vaccination will be added through the online system every Thursday at 5pm. The link will change each week and will be posted on the alerts page on our website: https://t.co/cv7yWkz9zg— FL Health Duval (@FLHealthDuval) January 5, 2021
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.
- 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.
For those who get an appointment, a consent form is available on the Duval Health Department’s website to print and fill out before you arrive. The department is just hoping to streamline the process a bit, but if you don’t have a printer, that’s OK, you can fill out a form when you show up for your appointment.
DOCUMENT: Consent form for COVID-19 vaccine
The health department says patients don’t need to fill out the insurance information on the form because the vaccine is free. They ask everyone to focus on the screening questions.
Despite the headaches surrounding the appointment system, all reports so far from those who have received the vaccine at the Prime Osborn have been glowing. They say the vaccination administration was a smooth and easy process once they arrived for their appointment slot.
The city of Jacksonville will also be opening two vaccination sites on Monday, offering vaccines to those 65 and older, health care workers and first responders on certain days based on their birth month. For more information on the city sites, click here.