JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Professors at Florida colleges took to Twitter on Thursday night with questions. After state emergency management officials acknowledged that school personnel were eligible to get vaccinated at federal clinics in Jacksonville, among other major cities, college professors and staff still weren’t clear if the order included them.
While the state has yet to provide a clear answer to that question, college instructors were not turned away from a COVID-19 shot Friday at the federal vaccine clinic in Jacksonville. Among those who got their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine was Jessica Borusky, a 34-year-old gallery director and art instructor at the University of North Florida.
“It’s a huge relief,” Borusky said afterward. “I work with students everyday I am on campus. UNF is kind of expected to be back in some way. I don’t want to use the word normal, but classes will be held in campus in the fall.”
During a Thursday interview, the deputy director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management confirmed the vaccine clinic at Gateway Shopping Center would follow a federal directive to vaccinate school staff there because the clinic is supported by the federal government. Unlike Florida’s executive order, the federal directive does not single out K-12 educators as the only group eligible to get the vaccine.
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Instead, the directive published March 2 directs COVID-19 vaccine providers to give shots to the following: “pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed childcare providers, including center-based and family care providers.”
Thursday evening, Duval County Public Schools sent an email to school personnel notifying them of vaccines available to them at the federal clinic, as well as a state-supported site located at Edward Waters College and run by Agape, a private company.
“Employees are encouraged to receive their vaccine as soon as possible and throughout next week during Spring Break,” Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene wrote in the March 4 email.
Tara Jackson, a 50-year-old literacy specialist for the school district, said her colleagues were excited to learn there was one location where all school personnel could go to be vaccinated.
“We were making sure to spread the news. We wanted to tell people in different departments,” Jackson said.
Mike Williams, 50, is an 8th grader gifted and advanced language arts teacher. She said after watching co-workers get sick this school year, she’s happy to have this protection before students head out for spring break
“It was very organized here,” Williams said of the Gateway Shopping Mall clinic. “I would definitely encourage teachers to come get a shot, especially coming off of spring break.”
The lifting of age requirements for school personnel and childcare workers at federal clinics in Florida came hours after CVS and Walmart pharmacies announced Thursday that they would inoculate all educators, regardless of age, in accordance with the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, a partnership between governments and private companies to expand and streamline access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
But state vaccination clinics, like Jacksonville’s Regency Square Mall, are sticking with the executive order handed down by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which states that only teachers over 50 years old can be vaccinated. During a news conference Friday, the governor said he has no intention of making other professions eligible for the vaccine in his order.
DeSantis said the next change in vaccination strategy will be lowering the age of eligibility for the general population sometime this month.
“We will move the age down,” the governor said. “I haven’t got that exact date because it depends on supply and making sure we are getting shots in arms for seniors.”