Brenda McCue started reading her new murder mystery novel while in line to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She guessed she might get through the first 100 pages before she left.
UF Health and the Alachua County Department of Health partnered to vaccinate 1,100 county residents at Ben Hill Griffin stadium Feb.5. The free vaccinations were by appointment only for Alachua County residents over the age of 65 who previously signed up through the health department.
County residents sat in padded metal chairs while waiting in line at the stadium’s Touchdown Terrace event center. The large room became a temporary home to 15 vaccination stations that stretched across the center of the space.
When their turn came, those in line sat down for their vaccinations. After receiving it, each person moved to one of the chairs lining the back of the room to wait 15 minutes so they could be monitored for adverse reactions to the vaccine.
McCue – who scheduled her test the week after Christmas – said she received a text notification Feb. 4 from the health department that she could book her appointment at the UF stadium.
“I was wondering if they had forgotten me,” she said.
The texts are part of a new online vaccination portal launched by the county’s health department Jan. 30. The online system allows people to schedule an appointment without the hassle of waiting on a call from the health department, administrator Paul Myers said.
The health department and UF Health are currently vaccinating about 1,000 people each day, Myers said, adding that the only limiting factor in the mass vaccination effort was the number of available doses.
“What you're seeing here today is just, you know, a soft start to see and work out some of the kinks and make sure it's as safe for everybody as possible,” he said.
The collaboration between UF Health and the county is a pilot test for the stadium’s regular use in future vaccinations, said Dr. Michael Lauzardo, head of UF Health’s Screen, Test & Protect program. The venue’s capacity and significance as a Gainesville landmark make it the perfect location for large scale vaccinations, Lauzardo said.
As rollouts are dependent on how many vaccines the state brings in, no timeline is set for low-risk groups, including UF students, he said.
Julius Gylys, a UF clinical psychology professor, took his mother-in-law to the stadium Friday to get her first shot. Gylys got his first dose of the vaccine a month ago.
“We feel so fortunate,” he said. “Until UF partnered with the health department, this wasn’t happening.”
Pamela Nolan, a Gainesville resident who registered for the vaccine in early January, said she is the first person she knows in the county to get vaccinated. Her son drove the short three miles from her home to the appointment at the stadium.
“I didn’t cry,” she said smiling as she got up from the seat where she was given the shot.
Twenty-eight UF pharmacy student volunteers worked in three shifts throughout the day in preparing doses of the vaccine.
The students received a great professional experience and co-curricular hours in UF’s pharmacy program, Associate Dean Shauna Buring said.
“I make sure the students go out and see so they know how much it means to the patients,” Buring said.
Screen, Test & Protect workers directed people with appointments to fill out consent forms and other loose ends. Sarah Weber, an STP worker, arrived at 7:30 a.m. to attend a briefing before checking people in, filling out documentation and addressing medical concerns.
But the preparation made the experience quick for the arrivals.
“My appointment was at 4 p.m., and I’m already done,” 70-year-old Alachua city resident Linda Chapman said at about 2:30 p.m. She spent her post-vaccination wait reading a newspaper.
She said she was getting the vaccine so she can travel to England in September.
Evangelos Christou, a UF professor in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology, said the vaccine made him feel liberated because he’s bringing his protection to the classroom and his patients. Christou teaches an in-person intramuscular physiology class and looks after patients with movement disorders.
“The whole setup has been really outstanding,” Christou said. “Everyone has been gracious and helpful.”
This article has been updated to reflect that the mass vaccination at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium happened Feb. 5, and Brenda McCue received her text notification Feb. 4. The Alligator initially reported otherwise.
Contact Jack Prator and Manny Rea at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @jack_prator and @ReaManny.
Manny Rea is a journalism sophomore and the current health reporter for The Alligator. He worked as a copy editor in his freshman year before moving over to the Avenue in summer 2020. He likes to listen to dollar-bin records and read comics, and he is patiently waiting to go back to movies and concerts.
Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time.