The Schottenstein Center's east concourse was humming Friday during a kind of dress rehearsal for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic opening up Tuesday. About 400 frontline staffers and faculty filed through the facility to get their shots.
Organizers are hoping the vast space will help them easily move large amounts of people through the process safely. States around the country are working to distribute the coronavirus vaccine more quickly after the U.S. fell far short of its goal to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, and Ohio is looking to expand the number of people eligible to receive a shot starting this week.
Ohio State University's director of ambulatory services Nikki Baughman is one of the people making sure it goes off without a hitch.
“As patients enter the corridor, they come through the gates after having their temperatures checked, and then they’re greeted by our check in registration staff," Baughman says.
Baughman walks up to a broad elevated desk. There are nine different check-in stations, with a number hanging over each one.
“Once they confirm that we have an appointment on the books, you would get a set of registration labels,” Baughman explains as the machine spits out a series of stickers with barcodes and other information.
From there, patients line up in an area roped off against the wall. This is where one of the clinicians, Charla Sewell, comes in to lead visitors to a spot among the long rows of tables stretching down the hall, with a stainless steel chair every six feet.
“So I would bring you over here, have you have a seat right here,” Sewell describes, “and then I would show you the consent form, ask you to put your signature date and time on there.”
After the paperwork, patients wait for the pharmacist, who runs through a list of screening questions about things like allergic reactions. Then it’s just an alcohol swab, a quick shot and they set a timer for 15 minutes.
“And as long as you feel good at the end of the 15 minutes like you do now,” Sewell says, “then we’re going to let you leave.”
While the patient is waiting, someone like Megan Sexton swoops in with a little computer desk on wheels to schedule their second shot.
“We will go through your demographics, make sure your address, phone number, everything on file is up to date, and then yeah, we’ll get you scheduled for your next injection," Sexton says.
As of Monday, Ohio had given the initial dose of vaccine to about 444,500 people. The state hasn’t set goals of its own, but nationwide the country is running far behind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a little more than 12 million people – just 3% of the country's population – have received their first shot, and President-elect Joe Biden's administration announced ambitious plans to overhaul the nation's distrubution process.
The Schottenstein clinic, and other mass vaccination sites like it, aim to rapidly close that gap. Ryan Haley, one of the project leads, says they’re aiming to run the site 12 hours a day during the week and eight hours on Saturdays.
Haley's done some number crunching and thinks if everything is running smoothly, they can move about 3,000 patients through in a 12-hour shift. But he warns they’re going to ramp up cautiously.
“We don’t want to compromise safety, we don’t want to push it to the point where we’re trying to get too many people through and we’re seeing things queue up, so we’re trying to keep that balancing, that delicate balance alive," he says.
While Haley is working to perfect the physical logistics of the Schottenstein clinic, an even bigger hurdle may be managing a limited supply. During a press call last week, Ohio State officials warned they wouldn’t have enough doses to reach their maximum capacity, even as the state opens vaccines to people 80-years-old and up.
At one end of the clinic, Brittany Finch is patiently waiting at one of the stations. The third-year optometry student says she does fine with shots. “As long as I look away, yeah,” she laughs.
After a few minutes, Karen Kish walks over to administer the vaccine.
“Which arm did you want to use?” she asks. “Either one, this one's fine,” Finch responds.
“Left is good? I’ll put left in here,” Kish says looking up from her computer screen.
Kish’s bedside manner is congenial and rapid-fire. She barrels through the screening questions, while setting up the shot and swabbing Finch’s arm. Next, she turns to post shot recommendations—reduce stress, get plenty of sleep, eat protein. And then, almost as an afterthought, Ohio’s vaccination count rose by one.
“You’re going to feel that vaccination, but most people don’t mind that too much. Put your fingers right across that gauze,” Kish says as she pulls a bandaid from her cart. “Perfect, right like that. You’ll be with us for 15 minutes.”