COVID-19: Vaccination sites prepare for 16+ age drop, doctors hope change will push towards herd immunity

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Starting tomorrow, those 16 and up are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida.

The state-run, federally supported Gateway Mall site is expecting its largest surge of people and FEMA officials tell Action News Jax they are confident they can provide the number of vaccines needed.

It will bring new challenges to sites, but with such a substantial age drop, those already vaccinated are urging the younger population to take advantage of a life-saving opportunity.

“If they want kids to go back to school, they need to get the vaccine,” local grandmother Marjorie Uitenham said. “Not only to protect themselves but to protect their parents, their grandparents and great grand-parents, teachers and their families.”

FEMA officials for the Gateway site say tomorrow is the last day they’re administering the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. If you’re 16 or 17 you need to be accompanied by a legal guardian and bring a signed department of health consent form.

Tuesday, the site will switch to the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is only authorized for the use of those 18 and up.

“Switching to Johnson & Johnson vaccine allows us to be more efficient. We can move more people through here since they’re just getting one shot and that’s our goal,” FEMA PIO Brandi Bates said.

“To get more shots in arms and get people vaccinated and back to life as it was before.”

However, getting back to pre-pandemic life is still far away.

According to the CDC, over 61 million people have been vaccinated, but that’s just 18.5% of the total population.

Assistant Chief Medical Officer for UF Health Dr. Chirag Patel said the younger population will play a key role in reaching herd immunity.

“Those who do stay asymptomatic can spread it to the community and not realize they’re doing so,” Dr. Patel said. “That’s going to contribute to us not getting closer to herd immunity and, instead, taking us backwards, so we really have to have people vigilant even in the younger age.”

Uitenham said a selfish mindset won’t cut it and that it’s the right thing to do.

“I want to try and protect everybody, I don’t want to be selfish and say it’s not on me to protect the next person. I feel like I should protect you, me and everybody else,” she said.

A reminder that at the Gateway site, if you do get the Pfizer vaccine during its last day you are guaranteed your second dose.

Dr. Patel told Action News Jax for those hesitant, the technology behind these vaccines have been around for decades.

He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses the same technology that is in the flu shot and the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA technology has been studied for more than a decade, so it’s not like it came out of the blue.

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