Minute Maid Park was buzzing with energy on Saturday as residents waited in line and pushed their elderly loved ones into wheelchairs at the stadium. But the main attraction was not baseball – these were the vaccines against COVID-19.
“I hope it doesn’t hurt too badly,” Stan Schneiderson, 83, told Mayor Sylvester Turner a few minutes before getting the vaccine.
“Oh, it doesn’t hurt at all!” Said Turner, who received his vaccine last week.
The city has partnered with Astros to transform the ball site into a Moderna vaccine site for up to 3,600 healthcare workers, residents aged 65 and over and patients with concomitant medical conditions. Vaccine distribution was relocated from the Bayou City Event Center, which was needed for a different event that gave the city a brief look at how the stadium will function as a mega-site when it officially opens next week.
Divided into three sections, the lower level of the stadium was reserved for the elderly and people with mobility challenges. Volunteers first took participants to a section to complete additional vaccine documents, then to the waiting room and official vaccination stations, and finally to a monitoring area where health workers monitor for side effects or allergic reactions for at least 1
According to many who were inoculated, the process was a straightforward, almost painless, and hopeful step toward normalcy.
“It’s like the flu,” said Rod Miller, who noted he had a medical condition and described himself as middle-aged. “It’s something you have to do. This is not just a civil duty. This is to protect our family and friends – this is the responsible thing. “
A recent graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Gwendolyn McAfee, 22, said she was worried about her disregard for needles and uncertainty about the effects of the vaccine. But as she sat in the surveillance zone unharmed, McAfee said she was happy to have passed through it.
“A lot of people my age don’t like the vaccine … but I thought I could be an example to my peers, especially in the age of social media. That’s the best way to be safe, “McAfee said.
Schneiderson, whose wife died in July, said it was difficult to stay home alone during the pandemic. The vaccine may offer some security as he tries to safely get together with a few friends and carry out orders while COVID remains.
Still, there are many “ifs” and “buts” for that. I don’t know if it will work or not, “said Schneiderson, who survived the polio epidemic in Texas in the early 1950s but hopes.
Turner, who toured the site, greeted residents with punches and elbows and encouraged volunteers and key workers, said Minute Maid Park was the largest vaccination site the city has hosted so far – inoculating 350 people an hour and tripling the total. amount of people vaccinated last Saturday at the Bayou City Event Center.
US spokeswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who attended an afternoon press conference at the ballroom, said it was the first megasite model in the country to serve as an example for other major cities that also want to create similar sites.
However, the result was more than Turner and health officials initially expected.
As of Thursday, the city had about 1,000 doses of vaccine and decided to reduce vaccinations for the weekend when no delivery was received, but by Friday morning, the city had unexpectedly received an additional 2,600 vaccines, Turner said. The city and Houston’s health department are shifting gears quickly, scheduling meetings with people who have pre-registered to ensure the vaccine is distributed and not sitting wasted on the shelves. They also opened a registration, receiving another 1,000 applicants within 20 minutes, Turner said.
Marcel Brightwhite, Astros’ senior vice president of business operations, said the stadium had already begun preparations earlier in the week and staff were confident in the infrastructure.
“It was more about the logistical flow” and providing enough physical space in the building to allow for social distancing in waiting areas and immunization pods, Braithwaite said.
As a result of the early shipment, 56-year-old Leslie Fox of Harris County said her vaccine appointment – originally scheduled for late January – had been rescheduled for Saturday morning. She was impressed with the organization of the process and the pleasantness of many of the volunteers and key workers at the stadium that day, Fox said, wearing a Buc-ee mask.
“I thought it was going to be chaos,” said Fox, who is a volunteer at the Houston show for livestock and rodeo and works for United Airlines. She is eager to return to normal life, she said.
“I want to see my mother. “I’m in front of people and I don’t want to stop that,” Fox said. “I want to get back to normal, and if that helps, so be it.”
Despite the success on Saturday at the site, Turner said he and city health officials are still unhappy with the level of vaccine distribution.
“We hope things will accelerate very quickly,” he said, adding that “certainty about when vaccines arrive and how much” can be expected will help the city respond better to demand.
Houston Health Director Stephen L. Williams added that the city plans to operate at least two mega vaccination sites – one on the north side and one on the south side of Houston. The city will also create a mobile site that will distribute vaccinations in urban neighborhoods and work with health centers and pharmacies to provide coverage around the city. Williams added that how many people are vaccinated will depend on how many vaccines are delivered and that part of the next batch of vaccines will be a priority for nursing homes.
“It will become more reliable over time and with the availability of the vaccine,” Williams said.
Although the spread of vaccines is increasing, Williams and Turner advise residents to be vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and hygiene.
“We are still fighting the virus. It’s still very common in the community, “Turner said. “And I want to emphasize the importance of testing, testing, testing.”