FAMU vaccine site “underwhelming” right now, but growing eligibility may change that

Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 9:28 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - With the stroke of a pen, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis opened the door to thousands of teachers, school staff, law enforcement, and firefighters above the age of 50 to get in line for vaccination.

Monday’s executive order comes at a time when some vaccination sites, like the recently-opened FAMU Lawson Center site, were underperforming capacity. According to officials, that location has vaccinated 208 people since it opened last Thursday, but the site has the power to vaccinate 200 daily.

FAMU Director of Student Health Services Tanya Tatum says that’s hopefully about to change.

“I’m hoping to see a lot more people come out to get the vaccine,” she said. “So we’re not turning people away, because that’s not what we want to do.”

But that’s what they’ve been doing, keeping hundreds of doses on the shelf because very few people under current eligibility requirements showed up.

Tallahassee resident Katheryn Mears is in her 50s, but tried to see if she could take advantage of unused doses by showing up to the Lawson Center on Sunday.

‘They said no, you don’t meet the 65 or over [requirement] that they’ve mandated,” she recalls hearing.

Mears said she is concerned the red tape is getting in the way of possibly saving lives.

“One of us could die because we didn’t get it that day,” she said.

She says she just wants a common-sense approach, not one that lets folks unfairly skip the line.

“I’m not looking to take a vaccine out of anyone’s shoulder,” she said.

Tatum said FAMU is tied to the governor’s executive orders and can’t overrule the guidance from the county health department.

“I’m frustrated for them, because for me my job is to put shots in arms,” Tatum said.

Despite the frustration, Tatum wants to make clear doses aren’t getting thrown in the trash.

She said they thaw each vial only when needed. Each vial contains ten or eleven doses. On Monday, when 33 people showed up to get vaccinated, only three vials were used. The other seventeen available were kept in a deep freeze and have a long shelf life, Tatum said.

“We do not waste any doses, nothing is discarded,” she promised.

Meanwhile, Leon County Public Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna applauded this week’s expansion.

“I’m thankful for the first step but we’re not finished yet,” he said.

Hanna said the district employs 1,500 staff over the age of 50.

“We’re all excited for what the vaccine will bring here in Leon County, in the country, and the world,” he said.

He said the district could organize another employee-focused vaccine clinic with the Leon County Health Department in the coming days.

An official with the Tallahassee Fire Department confirmed most firefighters have been offered the shot. As for Tallahassee Police, a department spokesperson indicated only a few members of the force are over 50, but the agency is excited for the process to continue to move ahead.

Those newly eligible can start getting vaccinated Wednesday.

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