Mixed signals cause morning of confusion for Jacksonville teachers looking for COVID-19 shots

By the end of the day, it was confirmed school employees of all ages could get vaccinated at federal sites

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – School personnel of all ages learned Thursday afternoon they could get a COVID-19 shot at federal sites across Florida, but the day began with confusion.

High school physics teacher Adam Mantovani, 41, went to the federal site in Jacksonville on his lunch break Thursday.

Mantovani said he was told by his teachers union that educators of all ages could go to the federal site at Gateway Mall to be vaccinated, contrary to the executive order saying only school personnel age 50 and could be vaccinated.

He was immediately turned away.

“They told me they had just recently switched the requirements back to 50 and older within the last hour or so,” said Mantovani.

On Wednesday evening, teachers younger than 50 were able to be vaccinated during the last hour of operations at the federal site.

Christianna Jones, 48, a Duval County kindergarten teacher, was one of the educators vaccinated just before closing.

“I had COVID back in October. I did not have a bad case of it, but I am just around them all the time and they have germs,” said Jones. “I am a diabetic, so I have other issues, and I want to get it.”

The confusion was not just at the federal vaccination site in Jacksonville. During a news conference Thursday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talked about federal vaccination sites in the state and retail pharmacy CVS going with federal recommendations to vaccinate all teachers, instead of his executive order to only vaccinate school personnel 50 and older.

“The federal government is the one sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, they have the ability to do that, so the pharmacies are obviously going to accommodate that, these sites will accommodate that, but our No. 1 goal right now is to get through the senior population,” DeSantis said.

After the news conference, a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson at Jacksonville’s federal site said vaccinations were still only being “offered to those who meet the criteria” set by the governor’s executive order.

Then the deputy director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management cleared things up in a Thursday afternoon interview, saying school personnel of all ages would be allowed to get vaccinated -- but only at the federal sites in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

“This is a federally supported site: state management, federally supported. As you can see there with all the DOD (Department of Defense) individuals on the ground. So, at the federal site, because of the federal directive, this site at Gateway will take teachers, school workers, early childhood, pre-K of all ages at this site,” said state Division of Emergency Management Deputy Director Kevin Guthrie.

Guthrie added the federal directive allows for teachers, day care workers, bus drivers and monitors, custodial workers, as well as other school support staff.

COUNTY-BY-COUNTY: Where to get COVID-19 vaccines in Northeast Florida

Following that interview, FEMA also confirmed the federal site at Gateway Mall will vaccinate school personnel of all ages, along with the other priority groups outlined in the governor’s order.

The federal site in Jacksonville is not the only location offering vaccinations to educators regardless of age. CVS, followed by Walmart and Publix, also announced plans on Thursday to vaccinate teachers of all ages at select locations.

Duval County Public Schools sent out an email Thursday night, saying that in addition to the Gateway Mall site at 5200 Norwood Ave., which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, all pre-K-12 employees are eligible to get the vaccine at the Agape Family Health site at Edward Waters College. That site is located at 1840 West 9th Street and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. While no appointment is necessary to get a shot at the Gateway Mall site, appointments can be made online for the site at EWC.

As of Thursday, DCPS had reported 587 cases of COVID-19 in staff members and more than 1,300 cases in students since the start of the school year. Approximately 20 school bus drivers and monitors working for Duval County schools have tested positive for the coronavirus.

In Clay County, longtime school bus driver Gail Brusseau died from complications of COVID-19 after testing positive weeks into the school year.

Dominique Keys, an assistant school leader at KIPP Impact Middle School, came to the federal site in Jacksonville after the announcement that the age requirement for teachers was lifted. Keys said the decision to vaccinate educators was long overdue.

“It’s one of the things that makes teachers feel safe in school,” Keys said. “That is something they should have made a priority when they decided to have kids in the building.”


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