Florida City COVID vaccine site does about-face after giving shots to all

The FEMA site was enforcing Gov. DeSantis’ eligibility rules Saturday but threw it open because few people showed up.
People wait in line Sunday to get vaccinated at the FEMA Florida City Vaccination site at the Florida City Youth Center.
People wait in line Sunday to get vaccinated at the FEMA Florida City Vaccination site at the Florida City Youth Center. [ DANIEL A. VARELA | Miami Herald ]
Published March 7, 2021|Updated March 7, 2021

A Florida City COVID vaccination site that responded to low demand Saturday by vaccinating everybody found high demand Sunday morning as it reverted back to state limitations.

The predictable disorganization ensued at the Florida City Youth Center, 650 NW Fifth Ave.

A Florida City police officer said through a megaphone, “If you do not meet the criteria, you will not be vaccinated today” to a line of serpentine line of 200 people, few of which appeared to meet the criteria as set by Gov. Ron DeSantis in Executive Order 21-47: people over 65; long-term health care facility residents and staff; direct contact health care employees; people over 50 in law enforcement, firefighters or K-12 school workers.

The site was supposed to open at 9 a.m. By 9:18, no one had gone in as staff tried to line up people who were wait-listed during Saturday’s all-comers process and Sunday people who fit the restrictions.

By 11:30 a.m. Sunday, the line extended to around 270 people.

People were told at one point during Sunday if extra vaccines were available at 3 p.m., they would be given to people in line rather than wasted. But, at 2 p.m., staff told people in line who didn’t fit the qualifications there would be no extra vaccines and they were wasting their time.

The FEMA-run site at 650 NW Fifth Ave. started Saturday with the restrictions. But when the vaccination flow was slow, staffers turned it into an all-comers vax meet — 18 and over, bring your driver’s license or state ID. The social media bell was rung and people zipped down U.S. 1 and the Florida Turnpike to a city near the Florida peninsula’s southeastern tip that rarely gets visitors from the north.

Related: New federal coronavirus vaccine site opens in Tampa

What had been a short line at noon curled through the parking lot and down an adjacent street by 2:30 p.m. Just after 3 p.m., a Florida City police officer put down a pylon and told people in line behind it that the 500 vaccines would run out by the time they got to the front of the line.

While some people left, others stayed, were put on a list and told to return Sunday morning.

But, at the same time, staff told people outside the Youth Center that Sunday they would vaccinate only those the governor said should be vaccinated. By Saturday night, FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde said the Florida City FEMA staff were reminded about who should be vaccinated under state rules.

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“We expect that all will go well,” Bahamonde said. “We also ask for the public’s proper participation in the process.”

State Senator Annette Taddeo Tweeted Saturday night that things would be just as open Sunday, a Tweet she self-fact checked and deleted at 9:38 a.m. Sunday.

- David J. Neal and Colleen Wright

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