Ineligible residents, out-of-staters vie for COVID-19 shots at EWC vaccination site

Hoping for Leftover Vaccines
Hoping for Leftover Vaccines

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, a line started to develop outside of the state vaccination clinic at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. It was not a line to get into the site. People who met the governor’s executive order could walk in easily. This line consisted of people who wanted a shot but did not meet any of the governor’s criteria to get one.

Just before the site planned to close its doors at 5 p.m., a worker came out and started speaking to people in the line, asking if any were Florida residents. He told people in line that if no one showed up needing a vaccine before 5 p.m., the site would take the first nine people in line and give them a dose.

Everyone else in line was asked to leave. One by one, all nine people standing at the front of the line were allowed in the building to get a shot.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in late February that the gym on the historically Black college’s campus would become a vaccination clinic. The site started at an allocation of 200 doses a day, but this week, it was increased to 500 a day, according to the CEO of Agape whose company assists in operating the site.

The site, according to Agape CEO Mia Jones, is supposed to be a health equity location.

“We touch those who traditionally in the area of health have more disparities than anybody else,” said Jones. “I did a search in my database of our patients and I found what I thought was just crazy: Over 2,500 patients that had more than three to five comorbidities.”

But for weeks since its opening, Jones said, the site has also been where many who are not eligible under the governor’s executive order go to vie for a COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“We have had people come here as far as Carolina. We have had Orlando. We’ve had some folks from Georgia,” said Jones.

With the vaccine, there is a process, Jones explained.

“You have to defrost it, make sure it’s ready to be placed in the syringes, and once it’s placed in the syringe, the clock starts, and we have to make sure we get it into someone’s arm in the time frame that is allotted,” Jones said. “It’s real simple. If it’s leftover and it’s in a syringe, we are not looking to throw anything away. I’ll come out to our security guard and say we got one left, let’s go outside and get this taken care of.”

Jones said the number of shots given to eligible people varies.

“One day we were able to do 374,” she said. “That was because the day before, we didn’t do everything.”

Speed Chialtas, 49, and his wife were one of the many people who showed up Tuesday at the site. He feels if there are some doses not being used, they should be available to people outside of the current eligibility.

“It shouldn’t matter. After a certain point, we have to look at, if you haven’t shown up now, maybe you just don’t want to get it because you’re skeptical,” Chialtas said. “Why are we holding out on skeptics at the risk of everybody else?”

Jones said it’s not as simple as people not showing up.

“We had a 92-year-old that lives two blocks from here, after we did the press conference, she said, ‘I can make it two blocks.’ And she walked two blocks to get here,” Jones said. “We had family members drop people off, but the family member had to go to work, so they left.”

Jones did say if they were to take everyone who showed up -- eligible or not -- they would still have to turn people away because there would be none left. On Tuesday, they turned several people away who thought they could be vaccinated after a certain time.

Some people in line on Tuesday said they heard about the site through coworkers who got a shot there, while others said they heard about it through a Facebook group called “Florida Vaccine Hunters,” where people share where they think there are the best odds of getting a leftover dose.

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