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'Confusing' COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Jacksonville, some turned away

Dozens of people reported issues with the Florida Department of Health phone number while trying to make appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A long line formed at the Prime Osborn Convention Center Wednesday morning with about a hundred people showing up in hopes they would be able to get inoculated.

However, officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reportedly turned many people away who did have appointments. First Coast News reached out to JSO to confirm this but have not heard back.

Our team spoke with a first responder from Jacksonville Beach who said that his supervisor told them they could show up and be let in. Zach Watson said he was turned away and described the scene outside Prime Osborn as "confusing."

Dozens of people reported issues with the Florida Department of Health phone number while trying to make appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Do you have any information as to whether any appointments for COVID vaccinations are in fact being made?" emailed one frustrated First Coast News viewer. "I have made over 100 calls to the number and have yet to get through."

A representative from the Florida Department of Health Duval County gave a statement around 11:45 a.m. after initially saying they would not be issuing one.

"We know people are very eager and we are trying to meet the needs of the customer," said Heather Huffman.

When asked about why the department didn't have a state-run website ready to take appointments ahead of time she replied that she didn't have an answer.

The Department told First Coast News that COVID-19 vaccines for individuals 65 years of age and older would be available starting Wednesday and that people could make an appointment by calling 904-253-1140.

However, many people are reporting busy signals or dropped calls. 

"Keep trying, we're gonna have that online system come. That will be another access point," Huffman explained. "We're working with the phone vendor to see if we can get additional capacity there and again, keep trying..."

The Health Department tells First Coast News that the issues with the appointment phone number are due to an influx of calls at one time.

"It looks like it's a free for all. And it shouldn't be a free for all," said Roger Gilbert, a senior who reached out to First Coast News unable to book an appointment for he and his wife.

"I just think we could have organized this so much better. We need somebody who's responsible," Gilbert said. "We don't mind waiting. I think the most important thing for us is to know that we can make an appointment, even if it's in a month's time."

RELATED: 'Supply is limited:' Governor DeSantis gives details on statewide COVID-19 vaccinations

RELATED: County-by-County: Where people 65 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine on the First Coast

The Health Department says that all patients arriving for an appointment must wear a mask at all times and practice social distancing. Patients will not be allowed to use the bathroom during their appointment.

Only healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff and people 65 and older may schedule an appointment. 

Those not eligible for an appointment are encouraged to follow the Department of Health Duval County for updates.

The CDC recently recommended that the next priority group for vaccinations would be individuals 75 and older along with essential workers.

Florida Department of Health reported a bit more than 175,000 doses had been given out statewide before Wednesday. Governor Ron DeSantis urged patience, saying the state does not currently have enough vaccine for all of Florida's more than four million senior citizens.

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