Socially distant rows of chairs were spread through the excitement-filled conference center at Embassy Suites on Monday, as approximately 10,000 Oklahomans gathered to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccination clinic was organized through a partnership between IMMY Labs, Norman Regional Hospital OU and the Cleveland County Health Department. The clinic was the first of its kind, according to IMMY CEO Sean Bauman.
“This is such a fun day — you've got so many happy people ... 10,000 people are getting their first shot, and for so many people, they've been waiting a long time,” Bauman said. “Nobody in the state has ever done 10,000 in a day. I'm not aware of anybody in the country that has done 10,000 in a day, in a single location.”
Despite the clinic’s success, a large number of Americans are still hesitant to receive the vaccine. According to New York Times reporter David Leonhardt, polls suggest that almost half of Americans would refuse a shot if offered one and 40 to 50 percent of frontline workers in Southern California rejected a vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is also higher among Black and Hispanic Americans.
Bauman said the main focus of the event was efficiency as officials administered 10,000 doses in 12 hours.
“Each nurse does one patient every five minutes,” Bauman said. “It takes two-and-a-half minutes from check-in out in the hallway until their butts are in the seat and there's a shot in their arm.”
Bauman said the goal was to have the line continuously moving to decrease exposure.
Emmy Francek, a biomedical engineering junior, said it took her 17 minutes to get inside, receive a shot and leave. Fifteen of those minutes were due to the mandatory monitoring time after receiving the vaccine.
“It was really a super easy process and everyone there was so friendly and welcoming,” Francek said, “It was a really positive environment … (it was) super quick and easy. Basically, I was asked two questions. I sat down in the chair and immediately had a needle in my arm.”
Francek also said she was excited to see IMMY Labs offer vaccines to people with comorbidities.
“The fact that IMMY labs was opening it up to people with comorbidities, no one else has been doing that. I’s just such a huge hope for Norman itself,” Francek said.
Bauman said the vaccination clinic was the first day for people under the age of 65 with comorbidities and teachers to receive the vaccine. He said he expanded availability “began with a bang.”
Sara King, the public information officer for the clinic, said having the opportunity to give these groups the vaccine made her emotional throughout the day.
“I've (been) tearing up pretty regularly throughout the day. It's an incredible opportunity,” King said. “To be able to provide (teachers) a specific time to come get vaccinated is a huge honor, and just I think (it) makes us all breathe a big sigh of relief … being able to access those with comorbidities is also just a huge realm of people. We want to be able to have this vaccine as soon as possible, and so being able to see it happen in mass form is amazing.”
King also said holding an event of this magnitude is something clinic partners should be proud of, and it will ulitmately encourage progress toward herd immunity.
“The more people we get vaccinated and have some degree of human immunity from COVID-19 benefits all of us in a sense of what transmission looks like,” King said. “But I think even on just the technical scale of having an event like this come together with all the different partners and all the different entities to make it work is its own level of organization, and something that we should all be proud of.”
Oklahoma is currently tied for No. 16 in percentage of the population with at least one dose of the vaccine at 15 percent, a total of 1,061,775 doses given. Bauman, however, said he has hopes for Oklahoma to become the top state in vaccinations.
“We want to vaccinate everybody by Memorial Day so that we can give everybody their summer back,” Bauman said. “Let's not be top 10, let's be number one in the country. … We have an opportunity right now to be number one and we're headed in that direction.”
Bauman said, following this event, he is looking toward ways to make vaccination 10,000 in a day “the new minimum.”
“Our first pod that we ever did was one month ago today, we did 100 people. … The next pod that we did 1,000, and then here we are a month later we're doing 10,000,” Bauman said. “Let's make 10,000 the new minimum, the new normal. … I've challenged my team, ‘Let's go figure out how do we do 20,000? How do we do 40,000? Where's the space? Who are the partners we need to bring together to make something like that happen?’ I'll tell you with what we've seen in just our community, and this is just one little pocket of Oklahoma people want to jump out here and help.”