How I got fully vaccinated in Florida before my age was eligible (and you can if you’re 18+)

Coronavirus vaccine. COVID-19 vaccination. Matrix. Janssen. Johnson & Johnson. Tampa

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Important update: Matrix appears to have changed its criteria between Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21. At Sunday’s event, organizers turned away anyone who was not eligible under state criteria; only a small number of vaccine doses were administered.

I want my life back.

Like many of you I’ve been mostly isolated for more than 12 months and there’s so much I want to change about that.

Sure, I want to hear live music at concerts. But more than that I want to see my loved ones. I want to hang out with my daughter for the first time in 14 months. I want to hug my sisters. I’d like to stay a weekend with my (vaccinated) mom at her Volusia County beach house. I divorced during the pandemic — eventually I’d like to date.

Attempts to get the COVID-19 vaccination

So I’ve been on a mission for several weeks to get vaccinated, even though it wasn’t “my time.” Every night I called a long list of pharmacies to see if they had leftover doses they needed to get rid of. I heard “not tonight, try again tomorrow” several dozen times.

It didn’t feel right taking a dose away from somebody who needed it more, but I felt okay inquiring about doses that would expire. Still, I kept striking out.

Until this weekend.

I want you to know how because I want you to get vaccinated. I want everyone to so we can beat this disease back before it does even more indescribable damage.

coronavirus vaccine

Matrix mobile COVID-19 vaccination bus. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (20 March 2021).

Success – Matrix mobile coronavirus vaccine sites for 18+

There is a company called Matrix Medical Network that is doing single-day pop-up vaccination sites for anyone over the age of 18. They’re based in Arizona, but have an office in Largo, Florida. I scoured their website for information about where the daily mobile vax locations would be, but there’s nothing.

On Sunday, March 21 the Matrix mobile COVID-19 vaccination site is at Keeney Chapel United Methodist Church on Destin Drive. I don’t know where it will be tomorrow. The best bet might be to go to Sunday’s Keeney Chapel site and ask.

I woke up a little later than I wanted to on Saturday to get in line for a shot.

As I approached the Hillsborough Community College campus, I saw the line of red on the map indicating stopped traffic. As I turned in, a sign said “Feeding Tampa Bay turn here; vaccinations straight ahead.” The long lines for food there reminded me of the struggle with hunger many of my neighbors face during the pandemic.

I found the vaccination parking lot and got in a very long, orderly and 100% masked queue of friendly people. Later a worker from Matrix or FEMA or AmeriCorps counted down the line and informed us all of where we were — I was in position 197. I had heard that earlier pop-up sites had 250 doses and that this one had more, so I was feeling optimistic.

Later, other workers gave us a QR code to scan, which led to the state’s vaccination registry. I had preregistered weeks ago at the CDR patient portal (patientportalfl.com).

Every time a worker passed by, someone would ask, “are you sure that you’re vaccinating anyone over the age of 18?” The answer was always, “yes.”

Worth the six hour wait

coronavirus vaccine

A line approaches the Matrix mobile COVID-19 vaccination site in Tampa. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (20 March 2021).

For hours, we slowly snaked ahead in the queue around the perimeter of the parking lot. People made food runs for others in the line. Strangers talked about meeting up in the future for vaccination reunions. Luckily there was a restroom in a nearby building. I finally got to the front of the line around 2:20 p.m., more than six hours after I had arrived.

The next steps were very efficient and went quickly. Three screeners sat at a table under a tent. They scan your driver’s license, pull up your online registration and go over all the screening questions. I have an allergy to an antibiotic, so I was told I was at “very high risk” for an allergic reaction and would have to stay for observation for 30 minutes after I was jabbed. I had no allergic reaction to this vaccine; nor did anyone else there that day. Twenty hours later I have had no side effects at all, though they could come later.

“Impaled by the tiny rapier she brandished”

After screening there’s a short wait for one of the two medical staff giving the actual inoculations under a second tent. That part is also very quick and efficient. My cheerful injector, Kenda, paused so that I could take a disheveled and worried-looking selfie as I was about to get impaled by the tiny rapier she brandished.

At its mobile site, Matrix is offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s the only vaccine approved for use in the U.S. that requires only one dose.

coronavirus vaccination

CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (20 March 2021).

When I was cleared to leave I noticed the long line of people waiting for vaccinations stretched even beyond where I joined the queue nearly seven hours earlier. My guess is that some of them did not end up getting vaccinated on Saturday. I hope they have better luck soon.

I have so much gratitude to everyone who made the vaccine possible.

Thanks to government-funded science.

Thank you to generations of scientists doing basic research.

Thanks to people fighting against pharmaceutical companies favoring “intellectual property rights” over universal vaccine access.

Wear masks, keep physically distanced from others, get vaccinated. Together we can stop this.

 

Seán Kinane is assistant news director at WMNF in Tampa.