Senior Citizens Camp Out in Daytona Beach for COVID vaccine

By TAMARA LUSH

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right rear, watches as Carlos Dennis, left, 65, rolls up his sleeve so that Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue paramedic, Capt. Javier Crespo, can administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A push to vaccinate people over the age of 65 in Florida has resulted in confusion and chaos in some areas, while others report smooth sailing.

In Daytona Beach, hundreds of senior citizens determined to get vaccinated against COVID-19 camped out inside their cars overnight in frigid temperatures to secure coveted spots in a vaccination line Tuesday morning, a day after seniors jammed the roads as they headed for the vaccination site.

A couple of hours north, in the town of Orange Park, the process appeared to be going more smoothly.

“Very quick, very easy. It didn’t hurt,” said 70-year-old Teresa Knight. She and her 74-year-old husband got the vaccine Tuesday morning after making an appointment online. “It gives me hope that we’re maybe coming out at the other end,” Knight said. “I know it’s going to be difficult over the next few months but I feel hopeful.”

In Daytona, officials tried to avoid a repeat of Monday’s traffic jams by opening a stadium’s parking lot to overnight camping for people 65 and older. By 7:30 p.m. on Monday, senior citizens in 200 vehicles were on the property, set to brave overnight temperatures in the low 40s.

“We have blankets and we have pillows, so we’re OK,” Mary Wilde told WESH.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that officials planned to close the gates once 1,000 people entered, matching the number of vaccines available for Tuesday.

The day before, seniors gridlocked the roads leading to the stadium as they jockeyed for position to be among the first to get the vaccines being administered by Volusia County’s office of the Florida Department of Health.

Daytona Beach spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said in a statement that people had camped out along roadsides despite warnings from police. That’s why they decided to open the stadium’s gates for parking.

“This change will hopefully remove overnighters from the roadway and alleviate early morning traffic congestion,” she said.

By Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders.

The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which means that 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians. But both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later.

About 83% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65. Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations, with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million people 65 years or older.

County health departments across Florida were met with challenges with their online reservation systems on Monday. Pinellas County opened its system at noon, but the portal experienced trouble at that time. In Hillsborough County, the registration website for seniors wanting the COVID-19 vaccine had crashed apparently due to the high volume of traffic.

In Broward County, the signup website crashed repeatedly, and on Monday, officials said all 26,465 slots were full.

“This is a very difficult logistical operation,” DeSantis said. “I’m not going to say that there’s not been any problems, but I think all in all, you know, the distribution has gone probably better than what we could have reasonably expected.”

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Associated Press reporter Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.

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