As vaccine supply edges past demand and the rate of those getting vaccinated is slowing, the Flagler County Health Department is shifting strategies and developing what one city commissioner described as a “ground game” in an effort to more broadly yet efficiently target new veins for inoculation around the county. To that end, the department is bringing four covid-19 vaccination opportunities to Flagler Beach this week and next, and by mid-May will make walk-in vaccination available at the Tax Collector’s office in the city, off of State Road 100, on Sundays, and possibly at other after-hour times.
More immediately, the Department of Health is cohosting vaccination clinics at four local restaurants in the next 11 days. These walk-in sites are open to the public, and will be paired with the goal of vaccinating restaurant employees, patrons of all stripes–any Florida resident is eligible–and Flagler Beach residents. No appointments are necessary. Guests will receive their first of two doses of the Moderna vaccine. Second doses will be scheduled approximately 28 days later.
The four restaurant clinics will operate in midday windows as follows:
- Wednesday, April 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m, Finn’s Beachside Pub, 101 N Ocean Shore Blvd, Flagler Beach.
- Thursday, April 29 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tortuga’s Florida Kitchen & Bar, 608 S Ocean Shore Blvd, Flagler Beach.
- Wednesday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to noon, The Anchor, 500 S. Ocean Shore Blvd, Flagler Beach.
- Thursday, May 6 from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill, 1848 S Ocean Shore Blvd, Flagler Beach.
Other Flagler Beach restaurants, such as the Golden Lion, may soon join the list, the health department’s Gretchen Smith said. “Hopefully there are more to come.” The Health Department will open a vaccination side at the Flagler Tax Collector’s office in Flagler Beach Sundays starting in mid-May. The office may also be made available for after-hour uses on weekdays, though that hasn’t been set for now.
“All she needs is a two-hour notice and he can have the office any day after 4:30 and on weekends,” Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston said, referring to Suzanne Johnston, who happens to be her mother, and who picked up on conversations taking place about vaccinations in the city. “It’s a county building, and it’s a way for it to be utilize for the whole entire county.”
“Flagler Beach has been having trouble securing a consistant and convenient site for covid vaccinations,” Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Eric Cooley said, just before the breakthrough with restaurants. “In conversation about this challenge, Suzanne Johnston heard what was happening and immediately offered her local office as a potential spot for walk in shots and even after hours possibilities. Now Flagler Beach can have shots available for our working folks who are unable to do appointments because of scheduling or time constraints and need alternate hours of access. It’s is a big win for our city and a model of inter-governmental cooperation working towards a common goal. I am one of the working folks with a very challenging schedule (working two full time jobs myself), and am very appreciative of the offer and quick thinking of our local tax collector.”
Cooley owns and runs the 7-Eleven on South Oceanshore Boulevard. “We considered doing it at my location but there’s not enough space for them to set up and let them do it in a safe manner, it’s just too small,” he said. Cooley said the health department’s approach in Flagler Beach fits its new “ground game.”
As of today, 50,300 Flagler County residents have received one or both shots of the vaccine, for a rate of 44 percent overall, but a higher rate when just adults are counted. Of those, 28,712 are 65 and older, or 79 percent. That group’s vaccination rate has been slowing, but health officials are happy with the 80 percent figure, as it represents a measure of herd immunity–at least within that group. Younger groups, however, are still not there.
Bob Snyder, the Flagler County Health Department’s chief, is aiming to make Flagler County first out of 67 counties in the rate of inoculation. But this week the county fell from seventh and eighth place, where it had been toggling back and forth, to ninth, according to a tally maintained by the office of Jonathan Lord, the county’s emergency management chief.
As for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot and is favored by younger people, “we’ve asked for it, but we haven’t gotten any of it yet or indication that we’re going to get any,” Smith said.
Lord expects the J&J vaccine to be available soon: Flagler County had been lined up for it previously. “We are hoping we’ll be given a J&J opportunity here for the county in the coming weeks,” he said. The vaccine was “on deck” for Flagler right before the government ordered a pause on administering the vaccine. Some 6 million J&J vaccines had been administered by then, with six people developing blood clots. “Last Monday we were actually going to do a late morning through the evening event, and the pause happened right before that.”
Lord stressed the importance of vaccination, all trepidations aside. “I get it, it’s a personal choice, but do the scientific research through the CDC’s website and get the vaccine,” he said.
Emergency management and FlaglerHealth Plus, the St. Augustine hospital, partnered to offer a vaccine clinic for anyone 16 and over on April 23. The Pfizer vaccine was offered (the Moderna vaccine is approved only for those 18 and up). The partnership made 800 appointments available, but just 250 vaccines were actually administered.
“While we had up to 800 appointments, just 275 appointments were made and just shy of 250 people showed up,” Lord said. “The majority of them were families with children that were 16 and 17 year olds. We were very happy, it was a great partnership with Flagler Health Plus.” The same group is due back around May 14 for its second shot.
Of the county’s ranking ion rates of vaccination, Lord said, “We didn’t really drop, Monroe County pulled ahead of us by a percentage point, but we’re still in a good place, we’re still in the top 10.”
Snyder said bringing vaccine clinics to Flagler Beach became a priority after speaking with John Lulgjuraj of Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill and others from the Flagler Beach Business Bureau, who proved enthusiastic about offering shots to staffers and clients. A combination of low unemployment, safety concerns and other factors resulted in restaurants throughout the community having some difficulties with staffing.
“The health and safety of our staff and guests have always been a priority while we continue to take baby steps back to normalcy,” Lulgjuraj said, according to a release issued by the department. “Offering our employees and the public an opportunity to be vaccinated brings us that much closer to ‘normal’ and the prospect of scaling back on wearing masks this summer.”
Any businesses interested in hosting a vaccination event, please call 386-437-7350 ext. 0 weekdays between 8AM and 4:30PM to set up a date and time.
Meanwhile, Lord said, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a couple of very easy to use home covid test kits, which are now selling at local pharmacies. Flagler County government has revamped its covid landing page on th web, with up to date testing and vaccination information, here. The health department’s page on mirror information is here.