JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wednesday, Gateway Mall in Jacksonville started operations as a federal COVID-19 vaccination hub, according to a press conference held Tuesday.
The site, according to FEMA representatives, is considered a state site, but is federally supported and federally funded with the majority of the staff working for the federal government.
The hub will give the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to eligible patients in Florida from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Among those eligible are:
- All persons 65 and older
- Frontline healthcare workers
- Residents and staff at long-term healthcare facilities
- K-12 educators, law enforcement officers and firefighters aged 50 and older
- Those who are medically vulnerable with a note from your doctor, preferably the form from the Florida Department of Health signed by your doctor
Two smaller satellite sites will move to their new locations on March 14. They are moving from Hammond Senior Center and Normandy Community Center to Carver Recreation Center (777 5th Ave. South) and Oceanway Community Center (12215 Sago Ave W) both are located in Jacksonville Beach. The sites move every 7-10 days.
Although the criteria for these sites originally said those who are medically vulnerable couldn't get vaccinated at the federal site, a FEMA representative clarified Wednesday morning, saying they are able to get vaccinated at these locations.
Patients must also be a resident of Florida to get a vaccine at the facility.
"If they want the vaccine and have had trouble getting it, this is the location," FEMA spokesperson Robert Spence said. "We have the capacity here to give out 2,000 vaccines a day. We can probably amp that up more than that if we needed to."
The vaccines will come from local sources, Spence mentioned.
Patients who do not meet the above criteria but have already received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may also get their second dose at the site. The Moderna vaccine is not available at the site.
The site will accept walk-ins, you will just need an ID to prove your eligibility. However, people are encouraged to pre-register to receive the vaccine through the My Vaccine website.
The site will be open "for the foreseeable future," according to Spence. They believe the facility will have ability to expand or downsize as the need arises.
Janelle Olsen, who has an underlying health condition, drove to the Gateway site from St. Johns County Wednesday. She brought the form signed by her doctor and said she was turned away.
"I quickly scrambled to drive up here, quite the drive over here today, but when I showed up I was informed that I can’t get the vaccination," she said.
Olsen said staff told her they didn't have the proper staffing at the site at the time to give her the vaccine. According to state officials, physicians, advanced practiced registered nurses and pharmacists are the only people who can give the vaccine to those who are medically vulnerable. This is why those who are medically vulnerable can't get the vaccine at state-run sites, like Regency or Edward Waters College, because the designated staff isn't at those sites.
“I have a respiratory condition, so definitely, the virus is of concern to me and it has been a long year and I was certainly very excited showing up today. I’m sure my turn will come soon and that’s fine and I appreciate all of these folks out here, and I know that they are working with confusing guidelines coming down from the governor’s office just like we all are," Olsen said.
When First Coast News asked at FEMA representative why Olsen was turned away, they apologized and said they're still working through the hiccups. The representative said they advised the staff at the site afterwards about the guidance in the governor's executive order so everyone was clear. The representative did not say if the proper staff was not at the site when Olsen was when asked.
At the end of the day Wednesday, the Gateway site totaled 1,060 doses administered. The Hammond Senior Center totaled 17, and the Normandy Community Center totaled 114 for the day, according to a FEMA spokesperson. The line grew significantly at the Gateway site around six p.m.
When asked what the site does with extra doses, the spokesperson said they do not vaccinate the general public who may be in line, as several people who waited at the site Wednesday said they heard from staff there.
The spokesperson said this is a rumor. Instead, she said they don't take all of the doses out at the start of the day. They monitor the flow of the people coming in and take them out to thaw the doses as people come in. According to state officials, thawed Pfizer vials can last for five days.
There is a plan to make the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine available at Gateway Mall. However, a FEMA spokesperson told First Coast News the staff will need additional training until it is made available.
After training is completed, the spokesperson said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available at the site, and people will be allowed to choose which vaccine they desire to take.
When someone registers for their vaccine, they will be able to receive the vaccine at any of the federally-run sites, no matter where they received their first shot.
The Gateway Mall site will abide by state regulations. FEMA, the Department of Defense and state health officials will run the site. According to a representative from FEMA, about 130 Department of Defense employees, Navy and Air Force officers are helping at the site.
The FEMA representative said FEMA worked with state officials to determine areas in historically marginalized communities to put the sites. She said they wanted to ensure equitable access to the vaccine.