51ºF

Jacksonville seniors wait hours for appointment-free COVID-19 vaccinations

Mandarin, Lane Wiley senior centers offer first-come, first-served shots based on birth month

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People showed up before dawn on Monday and Tuesday at two Jacksonville senior citizen centers hoping to be among the first Duval County residents 65 years old and older and front-line medical workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine not by appointment, but based on their birth month.

People started lining up at the Lane Wiley Senior Center on the Westside and the Mandarin Senior Center by 5 a.m. Monday Scores of bundled-up people, some bringing chairs and reading material, in line by 8 a.m. There were hundreds in line when the doors of the centers opened at 11 a.m.

The scene was similar on Tuesday, as seniors ignored the city’s request to not show up before the center parking lot opened at 10 a.m. and were allowed to get in line early.

A man named Robert was one of about 475 people to receive a vaccine at Lane Wiley Center on Monday.

“It has been such a mess to try to get the vaccine. It’s hard to get appointments. It’s like winning the Lotto and so, therefore, I decided to get an early start,,” he told News4Jax as he waited in line. “Even though they are not getting to it until 11 o’clock, I decided to get here early.”

Because only people with January and February birthdays are eligible Monday, some who showed up early on the first day were turned away before the doors even opened. Most who made it through the line said it was worth the wait.

“It was really smooth. I got here at 7:45. I was the 95th person and I was telling the gentleman here we remember doing this as kids when the polio crisis came out,” Edwin Pompey said. “We’re old. We want to see our families or kids again, or grandkids. It’s just a thing to do so everybody can stay safe.”

Others were troubled by the length of the line.

“I am 72 years old (and) pretty fit. I brought a chair and that was OK, but even with a chair, sitting down, standing up,” Connie Rennie said. “There were other people who were in a lot worse shape than I am who were lying down on the cold concrete at 6 o’clock in the morning.”

Several people told News4Jax there must be a better way. One suggested giving the shots to seniors in their cars, the way the senior center is giving out lunches during COVID-19. Another thinks the shots should be given at a place where there is more room and seating.

“Something needs to be done,” Jim Greathead said. “They could devise a better place for this. More open. A place where everybody could get a seat and they move on. I have seen several people almost fall down, myself included.”

Chris Miller said the parking was chaotic, but getting the vaccine went smoothly.

“Once you get up here and you get in line and how they’re doing it, the space that they’re doing it -- they are doing a great job,” Miller said.

The city said they are learning as they go. Starting Tuesday, they will not allow anyone to line up before 10 a.m. -- one hour before the doors open. People will be handed a ticket and told to come back later in the day.

Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Monday night that “We reached our allotment of 975 today and plan to do the same tomorrow” and parking lots would open at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Guidelines for vaccinations at senior centers

While vaccinations will be given on a first-come, first-served basis (no appointment necessary), eligible residents should only visit a vaccination site on the day associated with their birth month based on the following schedule:

  • Monday – January and February
  • Tuesday – March and April
  • Wednesday – May and June
  • Thursday – July and August
  • Friday – September and October
  • Saturday – November and December

These two vaccination sites will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays, although the line will be cut off at 6 p.m. or when they run out of the allocation for the day:

Maps of two senior centers offering COVID-19 vaccines.
Maps of two senior centers offering COVID-19 vaccines. (City of Jacksonville)

All patients must provide a photo ID that shows their birthdate and proves Duval County residency. First responders and health care workers should also bring a work badge.

Restrooms inside the senior centers will be available after the building opens for the day.

After receiving the vaccine, patients must stay on site for at least 15 minutes to be monitored for potential reactions by health care and emergency professionals. Based on medical history, some individuals may be required to wait 30 minutes. While allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine are rare, the city said, this safety measure is in place out of an abundance of caution. Patients will be able to opt in to receive email and text reminders about their second dose.

To assist with a safe and organized vaccination process, patients must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Masks must be worn at all times.
  • Physical distancing requirements must be followed at all times.
  • Individuals who are feeling sick should not go to a vaccination site.
  • Only caretakers may accompany patients who require assistance to a vaccination site.
  • Patients must park in the designated parking areas; patients cannot be dropped off.
  • Parking and waiting in line overnight will not be permitted.
  • Patients should follow traffic patterns and instructions from traffic monitors (a map is available at JaxReady.com/Virus?).

Patients should print and bring a completed DOH Vaccine Screening and Consent Form to the vaccination site. The form is available at COJ.net/CovidVaccineForm.

Between the two sites, the city hopes to vaccinate just under 1,000 people each day with the Pfizer vaccine -- Mandarin will provide 500 vaccines a day, while up to 475 vaccines will be distributed at Lane Wiley, according to the city. When the daily supply has been depleted, remaining patients will have the option to return on their assigned day the following week or make an appointment with the Florida Department of Health for the Prime Osborn location.

Vaccinations are still being given by appointment at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, but the demand for appointments has exceeded supply -- which will likely continue for the near future. In response, the city announced last week that it was converting senior centers in Mandarin and on the Westside from COVID-19 testing sites to places to receive the vaccine.

Officials hope more vaccine is on the way

Slowly but surely, vaccine distribution plans are expanding to different sites around the city and the state as the supply expands.

“If you look this week, we’re doing 50,000 to 60,000 shots in the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “We’re going to do much more when we get more vaccines.”

Even as more vaccines become available, area doctors say this process needed to be more organized.

“There is no coordinated plan to vaccinate 800,000 people from a priority perspective and there’s no equity established in the system,” said Dr. Jeffery Goldhagen, head of community pediatrics at UF Health.

Prime Osborn is still appointment only, but doctors say these three sites and hospitals won’t be enough.

“The idea that we are going to depend on them to implement our vaccine campaign is just not a viable plan to vaccinate 800,000+ people and to do it equitably,” Goldhagen said.

Goldhagen said there should be plans in place for elementary schools, health, community, and emergency operation centers to preparing to distribute the vaccine for when the supply becomes available.

“In minority and low-income communities, in the same context that we have a food desert, we also have pharmacy deserts,” he said.

Pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens could soon have distribution plans, while DeSantis said announcements regarding distributions at Publix locations should be coming soon.

The state Department of Health in Duval County began giving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 4 to anyone 65 years of age and older and health care workers who were able to get an appointment.

New appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine will be added through the online system every Thursday at 5 p.m., the health department said. On Thursday, more than 400,000 people tried to get online to book the new set of appointments, temporarily crashing the website. All appointments were booked within one hour.

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

For questions, citizens may visit JaxReady.com/Virus or call 630-CITY (2489) to be connected to a customer care representative.


About the Authors: