NORFOLK, Va. - The Federal Emergency Management Administration, otherwise known as FEMA, is operating a Type II COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Military Circle Mall with the goal of vaccinating 3,000 people per day.
Katie Guttenplan of Norfolk was one of the first people in line on Wednesday morning.
Guttenplan said she pre-registered a few weeks ago and when she received an email prompting her to schedule an appointment, she couldn't believe it.
"I think all of this anxiety that I've been holding onto - I just let it go in one big breath," she said moments before heading inside. "My dad's a front line worker, and so we've been really careful. I haven’t seen him or my mom in a year, and I just want to get the vaccine and see my family."
Over the course of eight weeks FEMA, with the cooperation of local, state and federal partners, will distribute doses of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine to 105,000 people.
In a press conference on Wednesday morning, after touring the facility, Gov. Ralph Northam said, "There is light and hope at the end of this long, dark tunnel, and that is this vaccination rollout. We have over 500,000 shots coming into Virginia each week, and we will plan to expand that."
In order to receive a shot at the federally-run clinic inside the former Macy's, people must be pre-registered.
Individuals can pre-register for a vaccine by going to vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682).
Of those qualified to administer the vaccine include 135 service members who have organized 30 pods.
CDR Gregory Leveque is the officer in charge of the military support to FEMA who said, "The team is very excited and honored to be able to be a part of this. Not only are we committed to helping the citizens of this country, but the fact that we get to help the citizens in the area that we all reside in is an added bonus for us."
The Department of Defense has forward deployed various members of Joint Task Force-Civil Support to help with vaccinations nationwide.
CDR Leveque said, "We share best practices; we share lessons learned and we try to figure out ways that each site - even though they’re unique - there are a lot of common elements, so that way we can ensure we are getting the number of shots every single day."
Janice Barlow, Acting Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 3, has been instrumental in getting the Norfolk clinic up and running in "record time."
She said, "The one thing I'm really excited about is that the shots, the vaccines that are coming to this location are a special allocation, so it will not be taking from the Commonwealth's allocation."
According to FEMA, the central location of the former Macy’s store at Military Circle Mall was key to site selection and provides access to over more than million people across 14 nearby localities. The federally-operated site was selected based on population and communities that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Barlow said, "We need to be in Hampton Roads. The equity will actually help us here and help Virginia meet their desires to get everyone vaccinated that needs a vaccine and wants a vaccine."
There are translators on site, as well as a civil rights adviser and disability integration adviser. Barlow said, "They're the ones that help us decide what are the most common languages and ensuring that we have material for that and we have translators or technology to help with that translation - as well as well as American Sign Language - to make sure that everyone has a wonderful experience walking through this site."
There are also wheelchairs and other resources available for those with disabilities.
"All along we have wanted to do this expeditiously, but we've also wanted to do it equitably," Northam said.
The COVID-19 Community Vaccination Center will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. for eight weeks.
The clinic will be open to residents in all seven cities.