ONLY ON: The faces behind the COVID-19 vaccine in Jacksonville

“We’re here for them. We’re prepared. We have their best interest at heart.”

Jacksonville, Fla. — Two weeks ago, the Gateway Mall vaccination site in Brentwood opened its doors to the people of Jacksonville.

While many of the men and women of the U.S. Navy say it’s an honor to serve at the vaccination site, for one woman the job is personal.

“Im excited. Because, first of all, we’re providing a great service to our community,” Lt. Junior Grade Tomeka McDonald said.

“I am local here so it means a lot to me to start first here.”

With almost 20 years of service under her belt, the lieutenant and nurse said this experience is exciting because she is seeing people who she grew up with come out for the vaccine.

“They come up to me and they’re like ‘oh I didn’t know you were here,’ so you know it’s amazing to see that they’re coming out,” McDonald said.

McDonald observes patients after they’ve received the vaccine. She also makes sure the proper number of vaccines are out for the number of people in line.

Mainly, she oversees and works alongside those who give out the shots, including 2nd Class Petty Officer Kristin Guzman.

Guzman assists staff with whatever they need from patient flow to sanitizing.

“Being here is actually surreal,” Guzman said.

While Guzman doesn’t have a local connection, she said this is dream work for her.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the medical field,” Guzman said. “When I heard about this volunteer opportunity I jumped at it.”

The days are long. Sometimes these men and women work between 12 to 14 hour days, seven days a week.

“It’s definitely tiring I would say, but to be able to be this much help to a community, to the United States, in general—it doesn’t matter how tired I am,” Guzman said.

“I’ll do it ‘til it’s done.” Both agree that the biggest challenge has been getting people in the door.

The site can administer thousands of vaccines, but is falling short.

The two women want the community to come out, get educated and speak with the staff on hand.

“We’re here for them,” McDonald said. “We’re prepared. We have their best interest at heart.”