Here’s what to expect and how to beat the crowds at the MDC North vaccination site

Howard Cohen
·7 min read

The Miami Dade College North vaccination site was slammed Saturday morning, with reports of cars lined up nine blocks long just to get onto the campus and thousands of people trying to get an injection of either the two-dose Pfizer or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The site’s goal is to administer 3,000 shots a day. The mix is 500 doses of Johnson & Johnson and 2,500 of Pfizer.

The J&J vaccine had initially run out on Saturday, said FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde. But around 12:45 p.m., another shipment of Johnson & Johnson arrived on site.

“We can guarantee 500 a day but if we get more we can use it,” Bahamonde said.

There will be another 500 Sunday morning.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the site — located at 11380 NW 27th Ave. — met about 50% of its goal.

Saturday car lines

Bahamonde acknowledged that Saturday has seen an uptick in visits.

“The car line is pretty long until people can come in and get into the parking lot,” he said.

But once in a coveted parking space on the campus grounds, Bahamonde said the whole process to get registered and into the vaccination tents tends to be about a 30- to 45-minute process on this first Saturday of operations.

“Right now, there is a very small line to get into the tents,” he said around 11:30 a.m.

That’s because many people are still in their cars. “It comes in waves,” he said.

What about the rest of Saturday?

So should you go today if you haven’t left your home yet?

You can. However, it’s possible that next batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine may run out, too, as many like the one-shot-and-done option. Come back Sunday or any day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the next two months. That’s how long the FEMA site at Miami-Dade’s North Campus will remain open.

Otherwise, give it a, well, shot if you really want to do it Saturday.

“You can reasonably expect a weekend will be busier than a weekday but if you came later today it probably wouldn’t have as much of a line at the lot,” Bahamonde said. “People who came out this morning say they had the expectation to wait seven to eight hours but it’s only been about an hour-and-a-half.

“The perception is it’s a much longer wait than what the wait actually is,” Bahamonde said. He added site managers at the FEMA-run venue, which includes Army personnel administering the doses, are trying to keep the entire waiting process under two hours for most people and that includes the car line.

“Everyone that comes today gets a vaccine,” Bahamonde said. “If we run out, what they are doing is registering people before they leave and tomorrow when they come they get to go through the fast line and are are in and out in 20 minutes, so there is that advantage if we run out today.”

On Friday, the Miami-Dade North site did not run out of its 3,000 vaccine allotment.

“We may get close today because it’s been busy all day but we don’t want people to panic because we are here the next two months, seven days a week and you’ll get your vaccine. At the end of the day, that is what this is all about,” Bahamonde said.

Tips on beating the crowds

Go around 10 a.m., Bahamonde said.

“10 on any given day is the dead period,” he said. “Even today, it seemed a lull so if you want to come, come around 10.”

Yes, there may be a car line, even then, as drivers attempt to pull into a place on the sprawling grounds. “But once they get to the actual tent, it’s very efficient and goes very quickly.”

Also note, this is the first Saturday in which the no-appointment FEMA site has been opened and more people are eligible to receive vaccinations than in January when primarily seniors 65 and over were the recipients.

Park elsewhere? Maybe. Maybe not.

We know a teacher who said she parked at a nearby gas station and walked over to tent area and was in and out fast on Thursday. She’s also spry and able to walk the distance.

Bahamonde can’t recommend people take a similar strategy and park elsewhere and walk over approach. But...

“For safety purposes we ask everyone to park in the lot because we have police and we have golf carts for those with ambulatory needs. But those that can walk and are creative in how they get here can probably avoid the line,” he said.

Just do yourself a favor: don’t park in a tow away zone or at a business with signage that says something along the lines of “Customers Only.” Don’t add a post-injection pain in the arm to become a major headache of another variety.

The car line may be your biggest pain in the you-know-where on the weekend. But it, too, will pass.

“This is not unexpected,” Bahamonde said. And he adds that site administrators will monitor the situation and make fixes as needed over the next two months.

“But try to remember back last April when we were all shut down. If anyone said, ‘Would you wait two-hours for a vaccine?’ not a single person would have said ‘No,’” Bahamonde said.

Want the Johnson & Johnson? You may want to reconsider if your plan is to leisurely head over in the afternoon. On Thursday, for instance, the coveted one-dose J&J vaccine had run out by noon. Administrators had said, then, folks ought to return the next morning — early by the 7 a.m. opening — if they wanted that vaccine.

And if you opted for the Pfizer vaccine, your second visit in three weeks, to the day, should run smoothly.

“For the second shot, the plans are to get people in and out quickly,” Bahamonde said. “You are already registered and have had the shot so we can get you right to the vaccination tent and get you in and out of here.”

South Florida’s first federal mass vaccination site opened at the North Campus of Miami Dade College. The site is a walk-up, with air-conditioned tents. The two-dose Pfizer or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines are offered. Eligible recipients lined up Thursday, March 4, 2021.
South Florida’s first federal mass vaccination site opened at the North Campus of Miami Dade College. The site is a walk-up, with air-conditioned tents. The two-dose Pfizer or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines are offered. Eligible recipients lined up Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Miami-Dade North site background

The site opened Wednesday as the first location in South Florida established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After some confusion over what officials would accept to let you have your shot, on Friday FEMA tweaked the system. FEMA said it would not turn away at-risk people under 65 who lack the medical form required by the state, but do have a doctor’s note.

Given the change and the fact that people have more free time on the weekend, the site was packed Saturday morning.

What you need to know about FEMA site

If you are there, or plan to go another day to the Miami Dade College North Campus site, know this:

You will be asked to show proof of Florida residency. You can use a state-issued ID such as a driver’s license or official state ID if you don’t drive. If you have insurance, take your card with you but you probably will not be asked to show insurance. There is no charge for vaccinations.

School personnel, police, healthcare workers and firefighters will also need to show proof of employment with a badge or ID.

People with “at risk” conditions must get a physician to sign a state-issued “extreme vulnerability” form, which will now need to be shown the day of the appointment. The first two days officials were not looking as closely at your paperwork, save the Florida ID. You can find and download the form at floridahealthcovid19.gov. A doctor’s note will also be accepted.

Appointments are not required, but they are recommended. The site is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is a walk-up. You’ll be in a line instead of in your car. The tents are air conditioned, though, and plentiful.

If you want to book an appointment, try myvaccine.fl.gov.