Hundreds line up in Estero to get first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

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Lee County rolled out its COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 65 and older on Monday, and when hundreds lined up to get their shot in Estero, the county doubled the original number of vaccines to be given.

Many of those in line at the Estero Park and Recreation Center for the first round brought a chair because they knew they’d have a long wait. Vaccinations were scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., but due to the long line, they began at noon. The county also initially said it would only vaccinate 300 people at the site, but officials later said they would vaccinate 600, the number of people in line. The county is planning to vaccinate 400 at the other sites this week.

Along with those 65 and over, high-risk frontline health care workers can also get the vaccine at the county sites. The shots are first come, first serve.

“Everyone involved wants to make sure that as many people get vaccinated as possible, but eventually we will get to the one in which we can’t,” County Manager Roger Desjarlais said.

The county learned a few days ago it could start vaccinating people Monday. The demand is so high Florida Department of Health in Lee County is vaccinating more people than originally anticipated. It’s all part of a changing game plan.

County officials addressed a number of concerns during a press conference Monday morning, including how people will get their second dose of the vaccine.

You can watch a replay of the press conference below or by clicking here.

The county said it talked about making vaccinations “appointment only” to avoid the long lines, but it became too complicated.

There were already hundreds lining up hours before the vaccinations were to start. Some people arrived and promptly left once they saw the line. Others wanted to ensure they get their vaccine and showed up Sunday evening to secure their spot. The wait was worth it because to them, the vaccine is a sign of hope.

“It means seeing my grandkids. It means everything. We haven’t seen our kids since January or February,” said David Piwnicki of Bonita Springs.

Piwnicki was one of those who arrived at the site Sunday evening, as did Marie Petitti of Naples.

“He’s over 70, diabetic, and we thought like everyone, this is a life or death vaccine,” Petitti said.

The county is asking for patience, for people to not show up at the sites before 8 a.m., and to prepare to wait in all weather conditions.

The goal is to vaccinate all 750,000 people in the county, but for now, Desjarlais said they’ll cut off the lines when they either run out of vaccines or it gets too late, whichever comes first.

Ideally, people who live in Lee County will get vaccinated first, but Desjarlais said the county won’t turn anyone away.

“These vaccines have been allocated to each county based on local residency, the number of people in each county. It does not take into account other state visitors,” Desjarlais said.

When the vaccine line started moving Monday, the excitement began to build. Patricia Stokes even said she and her husband were going home after their six-hour wait to pop open a bottle of champagne.

“I started crying when she gave me the needle, not from the pain but for excitement,” Stokes said.

With nine grandchildren waiting to see her, she said the wait was “well worth every second.”

Larry Ellis made the line in the nick of time. The DOH announced it was at capacity at 11:30 a.m., and Ellis was number 600.

“We didn’t get here until about 11; that’s why I’m 600 in line,” he said.

The health department gave everyone in line a red ticket. Ellis’ wife, though, didn’t make the cut.

“I’ve got some more health issues than she does, so she gave me the ticket.”

The county is taking direction from the state, but it’s ready to help speed up the process by providing EMS personnel to help vaccinate more people if needed. The CARES Act will help pay for any overtime by county staff, Desjarlais said.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is also involved to make sure things remain calm, and the Department of Transportation is on hand to make sure traffic doesn’t become a problem.

The Moderna vaccine requires two doses to be effective, with the second dose coming 28 days after the first. Those who receive their first vaccination from the county will be given a card for the next dose, but that doesn’t guarantee priority when the time rolls around. The Florida Department of Health said they’re still working out where the second doses will be administered, and they’re in talks of making appointments for people to get them.

For those who might be out of the state when it comes time for that second dose, “(if) they go home to New York or wherever that is, they’re going to have to get their second dose there and they cannot mix pharmaceuticals,” Desjarlais said.

Vaccination site schedules for the upcoming week:

Tuesday, Dec. 29:

East County Regional Library
881 Gunnery Road N.
Lehigh Acres, FL 33971
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Old Bonita Spring Library
26876 Pine Avenue
Bonita Springs, FL 34135
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Fort Myers Stars Complex
2980 Edison Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33916
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 30:

N. Fort Myers Recreation Center
2000 N Recreation Pkwy.
North Fort Myers, FL 33903
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Lakes Regional Library
15290 Bass Road
Fort Myers, FL 33919
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Cultural Park Theatre
528 Cultural Park Blvd.
Cape Coral, FL 33919
9 a.m. to Noon
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

There is no fee for the vaccine, and no appointment is necessary. Bring identification and, if you are a healthcare worker, a copy of your ID badge or a current paystub.  These are not drive-thru sites; all sites are ADA compliant.  To expedite the registration process, you may visit to download, print and complete the consent form prior to visiting one of the vaccination sites.

The United Way 211 line is activated for questions related to the vaccine and its rollout in Lee County. Call 239-433-3900 or dial 211.

The FDOH in Collier County said they have not received the vaccine yet for public distribution.

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