People lined up as early as the day before to be among the first 1,000 in line for doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at Daytona Stadium Jan. 4.
Traffic was heavy, and many were turned away once the stadium reached its capacity nearly an hour before the clinic was originally scheduled to open.
Despite the crush, people were excited to receive the vaccine at the first of what Volusia County Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell promised would be many vaccine clinics. News of the next clinic, Boswell said, could come by the end of the week.
“It gives you a little bit of relief,” said DeLandite Michael Galati. Galati and his wife, Alice, got in line at 4:30 a.m. to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Alice Galati told The Beacon she was very excited to be among the first.
“It’s the very beginning of the end,” Department of Health spokeswoman Holly Smith said.
A second first-come, first-served clinic is set for Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Smith said there is a learning curve when it comes to setting up vaccine clinics, but she was happy to see such a high demand.
There certainly was a high demand — to alleviate already heavy traffic in the wee hours of the morning, the stadium gates were opened three hours earlier than expected, at 4 a.m., to begin letting cars inside.
The 1,000-person capacity was reached by 6 a.m., according to the City of Daytona Beach. From then on, the line of cars leaving the stadium was nearly as long as the line of cars trying to get in.
Despite discouragement from the City of Daytona Beach and the Daytona Beach Police Department, people camped overnight in their cars along LPGA Boulevard.
Two such campers were Peter Laskowski and Norman Playfair, two Indian River County retirees who rode together to get the vaccine. The Volusia County DOH offered the vaccine to any Florida resident 65 years of age or older.
Laskowski said most events in his home county had been by appointment only, so he and Playfair took a chance and drove to Volusia.
“I feel very fortunate to get it,” Laskowski told The Beacon.
The first-come, first-served nature of this vaccine clinic may not be the norm for the future.
DOH Administrator Patricia Boswell told members of the press that the first clinic will be a learning experience for the department. When asked what the DOH had learned so far, Boswell said they learned to “fully appreciate the high demand of the vaccine.”
“Demand is exceedingly high, and supply is exceedingly low,” Boswell said. “This is going to take months.”
She discouraged older adults concerned about sitting in their cars from coming to the first clinics, and stressed that there would be more clinics.
“Hopefully everyone will be vaccinated in the next six months, that want to be vaccinated,” Boswell said. “There’s going to be ample opportunity for vaccinations.”
When asked why appointments were not offered, she said the DOH did not have the infrastructure in place to offer appointments, but hopes to in the near future.
For people who received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 4 or 5, Boswell said there would be a follow-up closed event 28 days after the first for people to receive their second COVID-19 vaccine shot.
For everyone else, the DOH will continue to post updates about future vaccine clinics throughout the county on its website.
Beginning of the end
Getting the vaccine was not easy for everyone; not even the 1,000 people who managed to get in Daytona Stadium.
Patricia Bartholomew and Richard Seibert spoke to The Beacon after they received their shots.
“We don’t know one another,” Bartholomew said.
Seibert lives in Port Orange, and rode his motorbike to the stadium at 5:30 a.m.
“I wanted to get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “When I saw [Dr. Anthony] Fauci take it, and [President-elect Joe] Biden take it, I said ‘OK, I’ll take it.’”
When Seibert was unable to get into the stadium because he was riding a motorcycle instead of in a car, he met Bartholomew, who had initially been turned away, but was moved to the front of the line when she told Daytona Beach police officers she is medical staff.
“I was one of the first people to get the vaccine, which probably pissed off about 1,000 people,” she said.
While some hospitals have started offering the vaccines to front-line workers, Bartholomew, a Daytona Beach resident, travels often for her work as a nurse practitioner.
On her way in, she saw Seibert.
“Richard was walking by and said they wouldn’t let him get a vaccine until somebody lets him sit in their car,” Bartholomew said. “So I let him sit in my car!”
“We’re friends now,” Seibert said with a laugh, as the two sat in the waiting area after receiving their shots.
Not everyone managed to get in, though. Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager Dru Driscoll said he had no estimate of how many people were turned away, but the stream of cars leaving the stadium before vaccinations began was as strong, if not stronger, than the stream of cars going in.
One person unable to get in was DeLandite Sandy Lew.
Lew said he originally planned to camp in his car outside the stadium, but saw that it was discouraged by the police and decided against it. When he got out to U.S. Highway 92 — as close to the turn on LPGA as possible — at around 2:30 a.m., traffic was completely stopped.
He said he parked his car and waited until traffic began moving around 5:15 a.m. When Lew reached the stadium around 6:15 a.m., he said no one was there to turn him away; there were just barriers up in front of the gates.
“They didn’t do a good job on this one,” Lew said. “I’m not going to go back tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
Lew said he wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine; he is just unsure how the Health Department could better set up the clinics.
“I was talking to some friends of mine, they’re in Sanford, and they said they had been trying for two days to get on the website to make an appointment,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is. It sounds like either way is crazy.”
As of Jan. 3, the Volusia County Department of Health reports 6,159 people have received the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Two doses are required, 28 days apart.