OKEECHOBEE — Two hundred people over age 65 appeared to be in good spirits as they patiently waited for COVID-19 vaccinations at the Dr. Brown Center in Okeechobee on Saturday. “If you have a number, you will be vaccinated today,” Georganna Kirk, chief administrative officer for the Dr. Brown Center, assured them.
For some, who had not left their homes or hugged a grandchild since the pandemic started in March, it was the “golden ticket.”
Florida Community Health Centers’ COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Okeechobee, Indiantown, Clewiston, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie vaccinated hundreds of area residents over age 65 on Jan. 16, on a first come, first served basis.
Kirk said they weren’t able to schedule appointments in advance because the decision to host the clinic was not made until mid-week. FCHC had been given vaccine for their staff and patients who met the state criteria, but as they had more doses than they needed, they decided to open it up to the public. FCHC advertised the vaccination clinics on their website and social media on Thursday. The SouthCentralFloridaLife.com website (home of the digital Lake Okeechobee News) ran a story about the vaccination clinics and placed links to the stories on Facebook pages in Okeechobee, Clewiston and Indiantown.
The Okeechobee clinic was initially planned as a “drive-thru” event, but they opted to give the shots inside the building instead so they could more easily monitor those who had been vaccinated to make sure they did not have any adverse reactions.
On Saturday morning, about 70 people were in line in Okeechobee at 7 a.m. By 9:30 a.m., that number had doubled. Updates were posted on the Lake Okeechobee News Facebook page on the number of spots available. By noon, all spots were taken.
Kirk handed out numbered forms to those who qualified for vaccinations and encouraged them to fill out the forms and wait in their cars. Patients were called into the building in groups of 10 for registration, health screening, vaccination shots and the required 15 minute waiting period. Dr. Wilhelmina Lewis screened patients.
The vaccinations were free, and each patient left with a sheet explaining they should come back to FCHC in 28 days (on Feb. 13) for the booster shot. The instructions explained that staff will call the patients to set up appointments for that day.
At the Okeechobee event, Linda, 76, and Gene Hammond, 79, arrived just in time to get the last two numbers. Linda said their neighbors from the Starlite RV park saw the notice about the clinic and went to check it out and when they learned spots were still available, “They called and said, hurry up!” Linda explained.
In Clewiston, Janet Taylor, chair of the FCHC board of directors, made Facebook Live broadcasts from the FCHC vaccination clinic there. She encouraged residents to help transport seniors who needed help getting there and gave regular updates on the number of vaccination spots available.
At the Indiantown clinic, the line was wrapped around the building at 9 a.m., said Karissa Grant of FCHC. She said the vaccinations were “definitely a hot ticket item.”
At the end of the day, 219 people had been vaccinated in Okeechobee; 180 in Clewiston; 240 in Indiantown; 329 in Port St. Lucie and 315 in Fort Pierce.