The massive bay doors of the San Mateo County Event Center stood wide open this weekend as thousands of eligible Dignity Health patients waited their turn to get their Pfizer shot. Volunteers ushered cars along the production line, waving large orange flags like aircraft marshals.
It was the second of the county’s mass vaccination clinics so far, and, by the end of the day Tuesday, around 4,300 San Mateo County residents would receive the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine.
The three-day clinic united Dignity Health’s Sequoia Hospital, which provided vaccines and vaccinators, with a laundry list of county departments that offered the space and coordinated the logistics and safety of the site. County Health Information Officer Preston Merchant said the clinic will serve as a model for future partnerships with local health care providers or a blueprint for hospital systems to set up their own similar sites.
“The county has really been instrumental in our ability to do this work,” Sequoia Hospital President Bill Graham said. “As health care providers, we know how to administer vaccine, but we really don't know how to administer vaccine at this level and to this number of people with the speed with which we’re giving them.”
Those eligible for the vaccine through Dignity, including patients 65 and older, received an email alerting them of their eligibility to sign up for an appointment online, Graham said.
Upon arrival, each patient checked in, confirming their identity by showing photo ID and confirming they qualify for the current vaccine distribution. County Health Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Shruti Dhapodkar said it takes less than 10 minutes from entering to getting the shot in their arm.
Meanwhile, a handful of pharmacists were hard at work preparing the Pfizer vials for use, bringing them up to room temperature and reconstituting them with saline as runners distributed the thawed doses to each of the 20 stations. Sequoia Hospital Director of Pharmacy Stephanie Dizon said the team had been at it since 6 in the morning.
“One of the things we learned is the Pfizer vaccine takes longer to pull out,” Dizon said.
After receiving the vaccine, patients were directed to an observation area outside the center to wait for 15 or 30 minutes, depending on their medical history to ensure they had no adverse effects. An ambulance was at the ready in case of anaphylaxis or other severe conditions. Dizon said they had yet to see a severe adverse reaction using the Pfizer vaccine at the site.
County Section Chief of COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Anand Chabra said the county is in talks with other health care providers like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health encouraging them to utilize the county site or to erect their own. According to Dhapodkar, the county is looking at additional sites that offer similarly large garage spaces to expand its own operation as soon as more doses are available.
One issue with the Event Center site is its limitations. It’s currently just a drive-through operation, and registration depends on having access to the internet.
Dieter Bruno, Sequoia’s chief medical officer, said
Dignity staff have been working to contact patients however they can to help them register over the phone if technology is a barrier. Dhapodkar said Tuesday’s clinic featured additional onsite staff to help with registration, and the county is exploring safe transportation options for those without cars.
“This is not one-size-fits- all,” Dhapodkar said.