Second day for Orlando FEMA vaccine site sees higher turnout

Site at Valencia College failed to reach 2,000-dose capacity on Wednesday

ORLANDO, Fla. – The second day of Orlando’s FEMA mass vaccination site began with higher turnout after the location failed to reach its 2,000-dose capacity on Wednesday.

Hundreds lined up early Thursday at Valencia College’s West Campus.

“We’ve got a significant increase versus what we had yesterday,” Lt. Col. Troy Fisher said during a news briefing Thursday afternoon. “We are now operating exactly as we would have hoped to be operating the whole time.”

Fisher said the site was averaging about 250 shots per hour.

FEMA officials said more than 2,000 doses were administered on Thursday.

The site used leftover doses from Wednesday and also used vaccines from Tuesday’s test run.

The site nearly reached 90% capacity on day one, according to officials, blaming the lower-than-expected turnout on the wet weather Wednesday morning and the fact that it was the first day.

Officials said they were making tweaks on Thursday to improve the experience of those who do have to wait awhile at the site to get vaccinated.

“Tents are getting erected, we’re moving the line to make sure that people aren’t in traffic or that traffic can still flow. So, day by day, we’re making improvements to this site to make sure that we can take care of the people of Orlando,” Fisher said.

The site will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day and is expected to remain open for at least eight weeks, according to the Orlando Police Department.

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To encourage higher turnout, organizers said they’re working to spread the word that no appointments are needed at the location.

Those who are eligible to receive the vaccine may pre-register by clicking or tapping here, however, walk-ups are also accepted.

FEMA vaccine site at Valencia College in Orlando (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

As of Thursday, an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis states people eligible for the vaccine include anyone 65 and older, law enforcement officers who are 50 and older, firefighters 50 and older, K-12 school personnel 50 and older, health care workers and people who are extremely vulnerable with a signed form from a doctor.

However, the federally-operated site has expanded its coronavirus vaccine eligibility Thursday to include K-12 teachers, child care staff and other school employees after a call from President Joe Biden to get those workers inoculated by the end of the month. Publix, CVS and Walmart have also expanded their eligibility requirements to offer shots to those workers.

[READ: Here’s where Florida teachers, school staff and child care workers can get the COVID-19 vaccine]

Yukeeba Mays, a 49-year-old teacher at West Orange High School, was able to get her shot Thursday after the site began offering shots to those who met the expanded criteria, just one day after she was initially turned away at the same site for not meeting the state’s age requirement.

She said she was emotional after hearing the news that she was now eligible and rushed over to get her vaccine as soon as she could.

“I was ecstatic because we should have been priority (on) day 1. I mean, I hear about other states opening up schools but we have been open since August, teaching face-to-face (classes) since August and I’m immunocompromised, as well, so going into the classroom every day, I’m praying that I am safe,” Mays said.

Katherine Hammond is a 37-year-old teacher who recently extended her maternity leave because she was fearful of going back to school and potentially bringing the virus back home. She said now that teachers of any age are able to get the vaccine, she’ll feel safer returning to work.

“I miss my kids to no end, I miss the people I work with and this make me feels that much better about going back and being able to finish the year strong,” she said.

Shelia Jones is a K-12 school district employee over the age of 50 who also waited to get her shot at the FEMA site on Thursday. She said she was ecstatic that the vaccine is now available to educators.

“I think it’s important. (Teachers) are around children. They need to be vaccinated because they are at risk,” Jones said.

She said the lines were pretty long on Thursday but everything moved pretty smoothly.

Second day of operation at FEMA site in Orlando saw a higher turnout (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

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About the Author:

Mark Lehman became a News 6 reporter in July 2014, but he's been a Central Florida journalist and part of the News 6 team for much longer. While most people are fast asleep in their bed, Mark starts his day overnight by searching for news on the streets of Central Florida.