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'It was like winning the lottery' | Florida teachers receive COVID-19 vaccine ahead of schedule

Teachers around Northeast Florida reported getting a vaccine days before the state officially opened up vaccines to educators and first responders.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida school employees 50 years and older can now get a COVID-19 vaccine, but educators reported getting early access to the shots this weekend.

When the state-run COVID-19 vaccination site at the Regency Square Mall opened to walk-ins, many teachers from Jacksonville and neighboring counties took advantage.

Victoria Kidwell, president of the Clay County Education Association, said she heard through the grapevine Regency was offering shots to teachers and took a chance.

“We drove down there to Regency, and I got right in with my badge on Sunday morning, and no problem,” Kidwell explained.

Kidwell shared her experience with other teachers and questions came in if teacher aides and paraprofessionals were available.

“[I said] 'I would try if I were you, take your take your school badge and try.’ And we had some support people get it,” Kidwell recalled.

“I guess somebody officially there at Regency decided that too many people were there or it was too available. I'm not really sure," Kidwell said. "Then I got a lot of reports from teachers saying they were turned away."

Kidwell said the vaccine rollout was clamped down. The confusion was not cleared up yet.

First Coast News reached out to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who operates the Regency site. They gave the following statement: 

"At this time, state-supported sites are vaccinating frontline health care workers and individuals 65 and older.

"Today, Governor DeSantis signed EO 21-47, which expands prioritized populations eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This Executive Order goes into effect Wednesday, March 3.

"State-supported sites will begin vaccinating these additional populations Wednesday, March 3. The state is working to update the myvaccine.fl.gov website so individuals who fall into these populations can preregister their information and be proactively contacted to schedule an appointment.

"We ask that individuals who are in these prioritized populations be prepared to show proof of employment, such as a school badge, when they arrive at the site to receive their vaccine."

In addition to teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters over the age of 50 is now eligible to receive the vaccine.

Kidwell said the rollout is confusing and causes some frustration to teachers.

“They're frontline workers," Kidwell explained. "They're exposed every day to multiple children. And, you know, it's a big risk."

In Governor Ron DeSantis’ press conference, he said they expect to vaccinate a majority of educators and first responders if they get 175,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

You can book an appointment for the Regency Square Mall site by visiting myvaccine.fl.gov or calling 1 (866) 200-3762.

  • Eligible persons include:
  • All persons 65 and older
  • Long-term care facility residents and staff (Regardless of age)
  • Healthcare workers (Regardless of age)
  • K-12 school employees (50 years and older)
  • Law enforcement officers (50 years and older)
  • Firefighters (50 years and older)