The federal vaccination site at Miami Dade College is open to people with medical exemptions, but a state form is required.
A spokesperson for the operation said staff will begin fully enforcing a paperwork requirement on Friday that will mandate a state form to receive a vaccination for people deemed to be facing “extreme vulnerability” to COVID-19. The form must be signed by a doctor. Notes from physicians and other medical documents will not be accepted, said spokesman Mike Jachles.
“The last thing we want is for someone to waste a trip and not be able to be serviced,” he said during a press conference outside the tent compound where U.S. Army soldiers were administering hundreds of doses an hour. “It’s important to abide by this.”
Jachles said people using the medically vulnerable category should not visit state-run sites at Hard Rock Stadium or Marlins Park. Instead, they should go to the federally run MDC site, or two satellite federal sites set up this week in Florida City (650 NW Fifth Ave.) and Sweetwater (250 SW 114th Ave.).
Pharmacies also can accept the forms. Jachles said administering a vaccine for someone deemed medically vulnerable requires a pharmacist or other specialized medical professional that may not be available at the state sites.
The MDC center at 11380 NW 27th Ave. is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week, and walk-ups are encouraged. Reservations can also be made at myvaccine.fl.gov. The satellite sites operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The medical exemption proved to be the MDC site’s main complication during its first day of operation on Wednesday as the first location in South Florida established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About 1,500 people received vaccine doses at the site, which continued to see short lines on Thursday and quick trips through a vaccination center where injections are administered by U.S. Army personnel.
The Day One injection of 1,500 doses meant the MDC center hit only about 50% of its daily potential, which Jachles said is 3,000 doses. More than 1,000 had been administered before noon, FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde said, and he called the pace “much more steady” than on Wednesday.
“It was very easy,” Mario Ortiz, 66, said after what he described as a 25-minute trip through the tent compound, including a 15-minute required wait for potential adverse reactions after receiving his Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “I’m done worrying.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine proved popular in its Miami debut at the MDC site, which also offers the widely used Pfizer vaccine. The Pfizer dose requires a booster shot but is considered more effective than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only needs one injection. The MDC site started each day with about 500 Johnson & Johnson doses, and multiple visitors reported being told the supplies were gone by midday Thursday.
Florida’s vaccine eligibility rules govern the site, one of four mass vaccination centers the Biden administration deployed in Florida this week.
That leaves the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis setting the rules for who can receive vaccinations at the federally funded site. The state also has responsibility for intake at the center, with Florida providing screeners who greet people seeking vaccination and determine if they are eligible.
Jachles said screeners at the MDC site would be given “discretion” only on Thursday to consider doctor notes and other paperwork if people don’t have the official state form declaring someone medically vulnerable. It’s not clear if that discretion was exercised, as multiple people reported being turned away Thursday without the state form.
Florida’s Health Department released the form Tuesday night, leaving many doctor offices to send patients letters confirming their eligibility for the medical exemptions. That followed DeSantis loosening the medical-exemption requirements on Feb. 26 to cover anyone over the age of 18 deemed at risk by a physician.
“Anytime we introduce a new procedure at any of the sites, certainly there will be a few hiccups. We regret if anybody was turned away having that form signed by their healthcare provider,” Jachles said. “Going forward, we will service them.”
On Thursday, the three federal sites also opened to adult school employees of all ages, following the expansion of eligibility rules by DeSantis. The prior rule limited vaccinations to educators over 50, but DeSantis changed the rule Thursday to comply with the more permissive federal guidelines given to pharmacies for their vaccination supplies.
School employees need their employment ID to receive a vaccination. Jachles said eligible school employees under the age of 50 need to come to one of the three federal sites. School employees over the age of 50 can go to any vaccination site, including Hard Rock Stadium, Marlins Park and other state-run locations.
Darcy Kriminger, 60, an instructional assistant at the Doctors Charter School in Miami Shores, took a break from a class on Thursday to see how long it would take her to get the vaccine at MDC North.
“I left my school at 10:22 a.m.,” she said as she walked to her car in the parking lot. “Less than an hour, and I’m done.”