They came, seeking hope and protection – a vaccine they pray will save them and loved ones from a deadly virus that has already stolen the lives of hundreds of thousands in the U.S. during the past year.
About 3,000 people on Sunday showed up at Ratliff Stadium for the first day of the mass Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination effort that was scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“I was really lucky, I was the first car to get waved through the gate,” said 55-year-old resident Joe Light, who was among a handful of people who arrived at the stadium by 4:30 a.m. “I’m diabetic, so I really wanted to get a shot.
“Plus, although I’m kind of a homebody, I just want to get out of the house again. I want to spend time with friends and family again.”
By the time Light’s vehicle entered the stadium at 9 a.m., organizers were already posting on social media and asking the gathered news media, to urge the public to stop showing up – demand was already outweighing the ability to distribute the vaccine.
“We’re set up to give 1,000 to 1,200 shots per day,” city EMS Chief Rodd Huber said. “We’ll give vaccines until 3 p.m. and then resume at 9 a.m. Monday. At some point this afternoon we’ll have to shut the gates and people will have to come back tomorrow.”
By 9:30 a.m., law enforcement officers were already telling people waiting in line to go home and try back another day.
Medical Center Health Center President and CEO Russell Tippin said the hospital last week received their first weekly shipment of 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and will receive an additional shipment on Monday.
Up to 1,200 vaccines will be distributed 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at Ratliff Stadium, Tippin said. The tentative plan is to continue the mass vaccinations through February before offering shots at Odessa Regional Medical Center and various clinics throughout the county.
The daily mass vaccination effort requires the help of hundreds of healthcare workers, law enforcement officers and community volunteers. In order to not overwhelm workers the vaccinations are being conducted in six hour blocks, organizers said.
Tippin and Huber acknowledged some people were complaining about the long lines and waiting times. But they said that the mass vaccination plan being followed is the quickest and most efficient way to reach the largest amount of people.
To speed up the process the public should pre-register online at https://secure.echd.org/qdregvax/default.aspx, Tippin said. The pre-registration link is not for setting up an appointment or a specific date and time to receive the vaccination. It’s a pre-registration tool that will speed up the process of administering the vaccine.
People, who don’t pre-register prior to arriving at the stadium, will be rerouted to a waiting area where they will have to register before they can proceed to the vaccination area. More than 13,000 people had already pre-registered by Sunday morning, Tippin said.
“If you pre-register it only takes a couple minutes to get your shot,” Tippin said. “Those who don’t pre-register are redirected to another area when they arrive and it takes them at least 20 minutes to get through the pre-registration process.”
Healthcare officials had requested that healthy individuals wait a few days before seeking the vaccine, to allow frontline workers, the elderly and others who are most at-risk to get vaccinated first. Clearly, that wasn’t the case on Sunday, Tippin and Huber said.
“We won’t turn anyone away,” Tippin said. “But we’re still asking the public to allow the most vulnerable to get vaccinated first.”
To speed up the vaccination process, Tippin said people should bring a driver’s license or other form of ID so that workers can more quickly make sure they are already registered. Residents should also wear short-sleeve shirts so that shots can be easily administered on the shoulder.
For safety reasons, law enforcement does not want people waiting in line to get out of their vehicles, Huber and Tippin said. People should go to the bathroom before they leave home because there are very few portable restrooms available.
“We know people love their pets, but please leave them at home,” Tippin said. “We saw too many people letting their dogs out of their vehicles to go to the bathroom. That just creates a whole other set of problems.”
Huber said “overall traffic was running smoothly,” on Sunday. He noted there were a few problems – one vehicle stopped working and briefly slowed traffic. A couple vehicles ran out of gas while in line, and a few people had to get out of line because their vehicles were running low on gas.