A member of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office directs traffic on Nash Street on Tuesday as people wait in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.

A line of cars equal to the length of 22 football fields stretched out from the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center on Tuesday as people waited in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

From the civic center on Nash Street to Shallow Well Church on Broadway Road, vehicles were bumper to bumper. Traffic came to a standstill in some places as hundreds of eager Lee County residents waited to receive their inoculation against the coronavirus. The virus has proved deadly to 45 people in Lee County and 7,638 statewide, most over the age of 75.

The city issued a notice early Tuesday warning people of traffic jams on Main Street between Horner Boulevard and the U.S. 421 bypass. Heavy traffic will likely reappear on Main Street as the county distributes vaccines on other days.

Nanci Donald, 78, said it was “absolutely” worth the wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As she approached the front of the line, she said getting the vaccine means “just being able to get some normalcy back.”

“I don’t have a fear of it,” Donald said. “I don’t consider it any different than when we had to take the flu shot.”

Donald’s friend, 78-year-old Bud Hunter, said he also was looking forward to getting the vaccination.

“I think it takes away some of the fear of going out in public,” Hunter said. “I’ve got a grandkid playing basketball now, and I kind of backed off going to the ball games due to COVID. Now, if I had the shots, I would go.”

That sentiment was repeated by several others waiting in the line. They said getting the vaccine would be a relief, that they were glad to be eligible for the shot and that the potentially life-saving medicine was worth the wait.

“If they’re willing to do this for us, the least we can do is wait for it,” Pat Mansfield said as she waited in the line.

The Lee County Health Department began registering eligible people for COVID-19 vaccines earlier this month. The department is distributing the vaccine via a drive-thru clinic — people drive through the civic center parking lot to verify registration, get the shot and then wait 10 minutes to see if there are any adverse reactions.

“We can get more people through (the line) with this setup,” said Jamie Brown, county spokeswoman. “This is the most efficient way. Right now our priority is, with the vaccine we have, vaccinating as many people who want it as quickly as possible.”

The task of vaccinating thousands of people in Lee County falls on the health department staff, with many employees pulling triple duty as they give vaccinations, test people for COVID-19 and work on contact tracing, Brown said. The department expected to vaccinate about 800 people Tuesday, she said.

“This is a massive operation. We understand that folks are frustrated or they want it to go faster, but we are working as quickly as we can,” Brown said.

“A lot of folks are starting to ask, ‘Well, when is my group gonna to get to go?’ And the reality is we can’t give a good time frame, because a lot of it depends on, one, of those who are eligible, how many choose to get vaccinated? The other piece is that there’s still a limited supply of vaccine. We can only work with what is provided to us.”