JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Karen Hemmer made an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine the first day the health department in Jacksonville opened a state-run vaccine clinic at Regency Square Mall.
Her appointment was for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, but when she arrived, National Guard personnel told the 80-year-old she would have to go to the back of the line.
The line was already snaked around the building. It would remain that way for most of the day.
Most of the people in line were 65 and older. Some, like Hemmer, gripped walkers and canes as they waited. Only a few brought chairs.
This is the line today at the state-run testing site at Regency Square. This group is 65+ and healthcare workers. All we have spoken with say they have appointments for this morning but are being asked to stand in line. This is the first day this site is handling vaccines. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/T0jMbZiTTq— Kelly Wiley (@KellyWileyNews) January 20, 2021
Some waited up to two hours to be vaccinated. There were no restrooms available outside.
Around 4 p.m., the fire department responded after someone standing in line had a medical emergency.
Hemmer found other seniors — most with appointments for that morning — in the back of the line with her.
“I am going to stay as long as my leg holds up,” said Hemmer. “There are a lot of people, like this lady, who have difficulty standing and if they make appointments, they should honor that.”
For months, the Regency Square Mall was home to the city’s busiest COVID-19 testing site. On Tuesday, state officials announced on Twitter and other social media sites half of the operation would be converted to a vaccination clinic for healthcare workers and those 65 and older.
This week, the site has 7,800 doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine at the state-run site in Jacksonville, according to the Florida Department of Health-Duval. Officials plan to book 1,000 appointments per day this week, according to the Florida Association of Public Information Officers.
Patients traveling to the vaccine clinic from outside of Duval County standing in line Wednesday said though the lines were long it was promising to be able to find and book an appointment.
“I’m really happy I get to do this,” said Nassau County travel agent Dottie Fortwangler. “I waited for weeks and I never heard back from my own county and my own doctor.”
State officials pointed to people who showed up and got in line without making an appointment as the reason why wait times were hours long on the first day of the vaccine clinic.
“We can’t stress enough that you need an appointment prior to arriving if you can help that. They will be turned away and advised how to make an appointment online,” the Florida Association of Public Information Officers wrote in a message to News4Jax.
As of Wednesday, the vaccination clinic is only booking appointments for seniors 65 and older and healthcare workers. The site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
Patients are required to bring proof of Florida residency and can call 1-866-200-3762 to book an appointment.