JACKSONVILLE, Fla — My name is Leah Shields and I am a reporter on Good Morning Jacksonville and a member of the Vaccine Team at First Coast News.
The state of Florida is slowly expanding eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine, but with new things always comes some confusion. People under the age of 65 with underlying medical conditions have been reaching out to the Vaccine Team for weeks struggling to get an appointment.
Now that group can get an appointment at pharmacies across the state, according to an Executive Order signed by Governor Ron DeSantis.
Around 5:30 a.m. Monday morning, I booked a vaccine appointment at Walmart for later that morning. There wasn't exactly a place to select my eligibility group, so I selected 'emergency medical services'.
The Walmart sign-ups then started asking about my chronic illness and other health questions.
It was emotional just getting an appointment. It seemed like the luck of the draw. Other viewers in the same eligibility group told me they also snagged an appointment through Walmart quickly.
It was a sigh of relief for a few hours, but when I got to Walmart the pharmacists were unaware of the expanded eligibility. A Walmart spokesperson later confirmed via email that they are working to update their system with the new information after the recent expansion in Florida.
After 45 minutes of waiting and phone calls by the pharmacists, I got vaccinated. The pharmacist has patients wait 15 minutes after their vaccine to monitor for severe side effects.
As a part of the high-risk eligibility group as well as the Vaccine Team at First Coast News, I often find myself communicating with people in similar positions like Michele Perry.
Perry has been trying to get vaccinated since Feb. 1 when Governor Ron DeSantis first announced eligibility for those under 65 with underlying conditions.
She was born with birth defects and has other neurological issues that put her in this category. For the past 4 weeks, she couldn’t get her hands on a shot.
“It’s almost as if… if you have an underlying condition, maybe you don’t matter as much," Perry said. "It’s been an unfortunate communication situation.”
Perry calls it a de-prioritization for access for those in this group. She wants to be in line for a vaccine, but she’s been stuck at home for now.
‘It’s very isolating even on top of COVID isolation," Perry said.
As of Monday, she booked an appointment with Publix for this week.
My advice is to come prepared for your appointment. Each pharmacy will have different requirements, but overall you'll need your ID, your insurance card (if you have insurance), and proof of eligibility which is a doctor's note explaining what puts you in this category.
Do not show up at state-run sites like Regency. You will most likely get turned away. According to the state, they are vaccinating other groups of people.
If you have any vaccine questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.