SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $3 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $3 for 3 months

Okaloosa's first senior vaccine clinic goes off without a hitch

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — After becoming one of the first Okaloosa County seniors to receive a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, a worked-up Del Gibson wanted to know who had organized the event that allowed him to receive it.

"Whoever set this up needs a pay raise," Gibson said. "This should be an example for the whole state on how to do something right." 

More:First Okaloosa offering of COVID-19 vaccines to the public proves popular

Like many, Gibson and his wife Donna had seen news coverage beamed in from other locations in Florida that showed elders waiting for hours in long lines in hopes of receiving vaccinations from caches of still-limited doses. 

The Okaloosa County Health Department set up a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site Wednesday at Northwest Florida State College.

More:COVID-19 impacted all aspects of life in Northwest Florida in 2020

There was none of that in Okaloosa County, where the county's Department of Health teamed with Northwest Florida State College, local Emergency Medical Service workers and Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to pull off a near seamless drive-thru vaccination clinic.

"It didn't hurt a bit. I didn't feel anything," 78-year-old Mary Norton said just after receiving her shot. 

More:Walton County holds first public COVID vaccination

Key to the success of the event was procurement of the vast parking lot outside of the college's basketball arena and baseball fields. The wide open space allowed the 30 Health Department workers and their associates to stage personnel at seven locations to assist in moving the 168 total vaccine recipients through to the vaccine site.

The drive-up COVID-19 vaccination site at Northwest Florida State College was using the Moderna vaccine.

A campus police officer with flashing lights manned the first station, assigned primarily to direct traffic. The second station held personnel whose job it was to assure that those entering the parking lot had appointments. Workers at station No. 3 obtained consent forms and station four was occupied by nurses whose job it was to determine vaccine eligibility.

At station five a friendly gentleman assigned new arrivals to one of two vaccination areas, and at the last station shot recipients were plied with snacks while waiting a required 15 minutes to ensure there was no detrimental reaction to the Moderna vaccine.

More:COVID vaccine in Okaloosa and Walton: What you need to know

"I feel like I'm at Disney World," one Niceville resident said after successfully negotiating a maze of orange cones to arrive at her vaccination destination.

There were about 20 vehicles in line when the vaccination clinic opened for business at 8:30 a.m., according to Health Department spokeswoman Allison McDaniel. Within an hour any backup in the line had been smoothed out and a slow and steady stream of vehicles was making its way leisurely through the stations.

"Friendly people. No lines, nothing," remarked Donna Gibson, who had arrived an hour early for an 11 a.m. appointment and received her shot about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

Gibson was hardly the only vaccine recipient to voice satisfaction with the operation of the clinic.

Del Gibson, of Baker, waits to receive his Moderna vaccine at a drive-up COVID-19 vaccination site at Northwest Florida State College.

Wednesday's event was intended to act as a rollout of sorts for future vaccination clinics, McDaniel said. The next one should be scheduled sometime next week.

"For the future ones, we'll have more slots open, for sure," she said.  

Another vaccination clinic will be held Thursday at the Department of Health headquarters on Staff Drive in Fort Walton Beach. The event was initially set up to vaccinate first responders, but was opened later to a limited number of seniors. The senior appointment slots were filled within about 30 minutes, McDaniel said.

Del Gibson, a Baker resident and veteran, said when word of a coronavirus vaccine becoming available initially got out, he decided he would wait until he could receive an inoculation at the V.A. But when he heard the Okaloosa County Health Department was taking appointments, he and his wife Donna changed plans.

"It was so easy. I called last Wednesday and asked if they knew when they would be getting some vaccines," Donna Gibson said. "And the person said, 'Ma'am, we're getting some next week,' and I said, 'Sign us up.' "

Norton said her daughter, Kelly Humphrey, called the Health Department to set up her appointment. Humphrey had reported to her that "the phone rang for quite awhile, but eventually a gentleman answered."

The person who answered the phone set up appointments for not only the initial Moderna vaccination but also for the required follow-up dose, Norton said. 

Not everyone has had as much luck getting through to the Health Department as the Gibsons or Norton. McDaniel acknowledged that obtaining appointments is a statewide issue.  

She said it is hoped that by providing earlier notice of appointment availability and using traditional media such as newspapers and television to get the word out, the Okaloosa Health Department can alleviate some of the notification woes.