JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Facebook post by Florida state Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) might have given the impression that anyone who brought a person 65 years or older to the federal vaccine site at Gateway Mall on Saturday could get a shot, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
Caregivers who accompany qualifying seniors to get vaccinated do qualify to get a shot -- as Gibson’s flier is titled -- but not “everyone who brings a senior can get vaccinated,” as the text lower in her post read.
Some states have specific criteria defining caregivers. According to the Division of Emergency Management, in Florida, “a family caregiver is an unpaid family member or aid who regularly cares for an older or disabled person. Family caregivers may assist with daily activities, personal care, or medical needs. Family caregivers qualify as health care workers with direct patient contact in Florida. These unpaid individuals have made countless sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
To qualify for a vaccine, the person should bring the person they care for who is 65 or older with them to the vaccine site and the senior will be asked to confirm that they are their caregiver.
The caregiver vaccination policy is always in place, not just on Saturday, although Gibson hosted an event at the Norwood Avenue site on Saturday, hoping to encourage more seniors -- and those who care for them -- to come out to get shots.
Rebecca Larson, a 52-year-old 11th-grade teacher, said all appointments in Alachua County were booked, so she came up to get the Johnson & Johnson shot at the FEMA site.
“I am an educator, and I wanted to be protected, and I heard they were doing them up here, so my whole team came up. I came too,” Larson said.
The current qualifications for federal sites in Florida, including Gateway Mall:
- Long-term care facility residents and staff
- Persons 65 years of age and older
- Persons under 65 deemed medically vulnerable by a physician
- Health care personnel with direct patient contact
- K-12 school employees of any age
- Sworn law enforcement officers 50 years of age and older
- Firefighters 50 years of age and older
The We Care event ran from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday but the Gateway site is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
Gibson said the idea is to encourage both seniors and their caregivers to get vaccinate.
“If the charge or senior has a vaccine, but the caregiver doesn’t, that’s not really the safest environment,” Gibson said. “Sometimes it takes a little urging to get seniors to come to things.”
Brian Holden, who cares for his father, came with him Saturday and both men got their COVID-19 vaccines.
“We’re at the point now, we can’t do anything, we can’t go out and do anything, so this is a step in returning to normal, I guess,” Holden said. “To me, it sort of makes sense to get caregivers vaccinated. If you’re caring for people who are most vulnerable, absolutely.”
Some didn’t wait until Saturday’s event to take advantage of vaccines.
“I am so happy because it protects me and protects other people,” Maria Gomez said as she left Gateway on Friday.
Gomez’s 21-year-old nephew also received a shot. He was eligible because of a medical condition, but he would have been as her caregiver and he believes that’s crucial in containing this pandemic.
“I think it is important, particularly if you’re caring for an elderly population,” Ibraheem Ahmed said. “They are more susceptible to the virus, so it’s important that both are able to get it.”
Other vaccine changes
There will another change in criteria Monday when the age to qualify for a vaccine at all sites in Florida drops to 60, per Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest executive order.
And the FEMA-run satellite sites currently at Normandy Community Center and Hammond Senior Center will close on Saturday and relocate and open Sunday at new locations for the next 10 days. They offer a choice of Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
- Carver Center, 777 South 5th Street, Jacksonville Beach
- Oceanway Community Center, 12215 Sago Ave. W., Jacksonville
People wanting to get vaccinated at one of the federal sites or the state-run site at Regency Square are encouraged to preregister by going to the state’s online site -- myvaccine.fl.gov -- or by calling Duval County’s booking number -- 866-200-3762. However, appointments are not required.
For links to all the pharmacy sign-ups and state-run vaccination sites in other counties, click on our Where to get COVID-19 vaccines in Northeast Florida story.
Transportation is available. Call JTA at 904-630-3100 to arrange a ride.