SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County was one of eight counties in the state selected for a pilot program that has workers distributing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Oviedo Mall this week.
Seminole County’s Emergency Manager Alan Harris said he had been talking about this program for about six months and said he was very vocal with the state leaders and told them he’d like to be a part of the pilot program.
Other counties in Florida that are part of the program will also begin administering shots very soon, Harris said, including neighboring Orange County.
Shots were set to begin at 1 p.m. near the food court of the Oviedo Mall across from the Loft Outlet.
“We are the first county in the state to do this, and to have this vaccine site, open to the public,” Seminole County Chairman Lee Constantine said. “It’s a very exciting day for all of us, and especially, and hopefully for our residents. It is also a great day for the state of Florida because again, starting now, One shot at a time we’re going to save lives.”
He said he told Florida officials that the county was prepared and even submitted plans months ago to show what had been put in place to make this happen.
Harris said the pilot program was to see how it would work for counties to set up points of distribution.
He told News 6 Seminole County was selected and that it received 8,100 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. He said the county is prepared to receive Pfzier vaccines and has the freezer capacity.
“We will be doing up to 700 a day,” Harris said.
When the online portal was opened for people 65 and older to sign up to get the vaccine, Harris said all of the appointments booked up within hours.
“I was expecting that there, to be some concern with the vaccine because of all the conspiracy theories, but clearly people have read, they’ve gotten the facts, they’ve discarded the stupid conspiracy theories and they’re interested in getting the vaccine and saving their own lives,” Harris said.
Harris said it’s vital for people to make an appointment. There are no-walk in appointments.
“Because we have to thaw out the doses,” he said. “So we have to have the exact amount of doses each day.”
Once a vaccine vile is opened it must be used in 6 hours, Seminole County health officer Donna Walsh said. If someone doesn’t show they will call individuals on a waiting list but Walsh hopes people keep their appointments.
“We have 30 days to use that refrigerated product once it’s thawed and we are being very careful not to enter a vial until we have 10 people. So we know that we can use that vial within six hours,” Walsh said.
Jeff Wray said he’s one of those scheduled to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the Oviedo Mall.
“I hope that once I go through this that others will see that there’s no problem with taking the vaccine and protecting them, not only themselves, but their family and others that they come in contact with,” Wray said.
People can make an appointment by going to prepareseminole.org or calling the citizens hotline at 407-665-0000. People who qualify for the vaccine can also go directly to Eventbrite to book an appointment.
All appointments for this week were booked as of Monday morning and the county was set to open the website for more bookings at 11 a.m., however, the website was experiencing an outage Monday morning.
“Currently, Seminole County’s website is down and phone lines are busy as residents 65+ attempt to register for a COVID-19 vaccine,” the county said in a tweet. “We appreciate your patience as we work through these issues.”
Harris said the county is working to get more servers online to handle the demand.
Residents over 65 who have appointments will be vaccinated in the food court across from the Loft outlet, according to a news release. People should enter the mall between the Paul Mitchell School and Oyishi Steakhouse, near the north entrance of the food court.
As of Dec. 28, only the following groups are eligible for vaccines: residents 65 years and older, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, EMT and paramedics, Florida Department of Health clinical staff providing services and healthcare workers.
Residents can also text COVID19INFO to 888-777 to receive notifications when the vaccine becomes available to more groups.
County officials said a clearance letter from a physician to receive the vaccine is no longer required.
As of 8:15 p.m. Monday, all appointments through Jan. 9 have been filled.
Seminole County, as well as other Central Florida county leaders, are working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management to expedite vaccine distribution to more of their residents.
Walsh estimated the vaccines would be available to a wider population in March or April but if additional vaccine’s are approved by the Federal Drug Administration that could speed up the timeline.