The number of Leon County residents who have been vaccinated so far stands at just over 1,000.
| Tallahassee Democrat
Watch Moderna vaccines be unloaded at CRMC
Dr. Michael Jackson, pharmacy director at CRMC, unloads the first shipment of Moderna vaccines delivered to CRMC on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.
Leon County’s first day with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine began with the local health department’s phone line jammed by an onslaught of residents calling to schedule appointments, while many — stressed at the idea of missing out on an unknown number of vaccinations available — formed a line outside the office on Municipal Way.
By early Tuesday evening, the health department apologized for the phone outage on social media, citing “an unprecedented volume of calls.”
The Leon County Health Department started the day with a press release Tuesday morning, announcing the Moderna vaccine would be available for residents ages 65 and older, and health care workers considered at high-risk. But the department also said offices would be closed Thursday for New Year’s Eve.
And as the department’s phone line crashed, giving many an automated error message, some harried seniors began forming a line in their cars in what felt like a desperate attempt to see if officials would begin vaccinating.
For people such as Gail Stansberry-Ziffer, 66, the efforts were rewarded. She said she was one of those who received a vaccination after waiting in line among what she estimated to be about 100 people. Her husband Gil Ziffer is a former Tallahassee city commissioner.
The process for receiving the vaccine was swift, but the disorganization of the announcement and information available left people like her with unnecessary stress, she said.
“I spoke to three different individuals either handing out forms, taking signed forms or moving folks through the two lines. They all apologized for the hassle … and said they only found out this morning that this was happening today and a news release had been sent out,” Stansberry-Ziffer said. “This definitely needs to be better organized.”
She also expressed concern for people considered high-risk for the virus who did not have easy access to transportation.
Another man over the age of 65, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons, said he also received the vaccination after wa` iting in line behind roughly a dozen cars. He commended the smooth operation at the health department’s Municipal Way location but said the notification was troublesome for people who are not online often.
He added that after receiving his shot he was asked to wait for 15 minutes. He will either receive the second vaccination in 28 days from his primary care provider or return to the health department, he said health officials told him.
Information about the vaccine was sparse coming from the local health department. Public officials took to social media to offer their thoughts or information about what to do next.
State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, said earlier Tuesday that she had spoken with Leon Health Officer Claudia Blackburn, who said the department’s phone number probably had been overwhelmed by calls, which is why itk, stopped working.
“They had 300 calls before they’d released the number,” Tant said Blackburn had told her. The department told the lawmaker officials hope to have an online system for scheduling appointments soon.
By mid-afternoon, the department had updated its website to include a vaccination request form and another number to call, 850-404-6399. The department’s website can be found at Leon.FloridaHealth.gov. The health department building can be found at 2965 Municipal Way.
“This is another testament to the well-informed nature of this community,” Tant said about the response.
Chris Petley, spokesman for the Leon County public school district, took to his personal Twitter account to defend the health department from online criticism.
“I’m seeing a couple hot takes right now on the local health department and getting the vaccine process up and running,” Petley wrote online. “Folks, it’s not like they have been sitting around waiting for this, they have been fixing the bike while riding it and have been working 15-plus hour days since March.
“Maybe be thankful the process is ahead of schedule and be grateful. And remember these are regular individuals with extraordinary jobs at the moment. And final vent: go get the vaccination!”
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said the city welcomed the vaccination operation: “The city wants to keep our community safe and we are great community partners supporting the health department in any way we possibly can,” he said.
Local health officials will provide the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on Dec. 18. The department added that vaccinations and appointments will happen on a first-come, first-served basis and did not provide information on the number of doses of the vaccination that are available.
The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose shot separated by 28 days.
The department emphasized officials do not yet know how long the vaccine’s protection against the virus will last. Over the weekend, Blackburn herself was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
“We have been waiting for the arrival of a vaccine since the pandemic began,” Blackburn said in a statement. “I am confident this vaccine and others in development will stop the spread of the virus and save lives.”
Blackburn also emphasized the importance of residents continuing to wear masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands while waiting for a majority of people to receive a vaccine.
To schedule an appointment
- Leon County residents should call the Leon County COVID-19 Call Center at (850) 404-6300 and choose option 1 or at (850) 404-6399. The call center is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Sign up online to receive a call back at https://tinyurl.com/ycxwjxl4
- The Leon County health department will close its offices Dec. 31-Jan. 1 in observance of the New Year holiday.
- The department asks residents to bring government-issued identification and to expect delays in completing the vaccination process.
Contact CD Davidson-Hiers at CDavidsonH@Tallahassee.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DavidsonHiers.
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