Gillette Stadium, near Boston, is not hosting a football game today. But instead of shooting in the end zone, the action here is to shoot in the arms.
On the day of Allison Aubrey’s visit to NPR, more than 2,000 people were vaccinated there, according to Dr. Atul Gawande, surgeon and professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Aubrey asked, “And when you reach your maximum capacity, what is your hope for how many people you can immunize in total? “
“We will definitely be over 5,000 a day and we will go north as much as possible,” he replied.
In December, Gawande spotted problems. COVID-19 vaccines had been developed in record time, but there was no manual to administer them quickly. “To be honest about it, it’s all been a breakthrough and no follow-up,” he said.
Many people are unsure of how to register and where to go, and states have made efforts to increase their capacity.
Gawande saw a way to help, so he picked up the phone and contacted Robert and Jonathan Craft, owners of the New England Patriots. He explained how he and a team of partners stepped up CVOD testing at the start of the pandemic.
“We saw that people couldn’t take tests, hospitals couldn’t do it,” Gawande said. “And we created a partnership which was to be the entrepreneur who can extend that.”
Now they could use the same playbook for vaccinations. They just needed someone to lend them space.
“And sure enough, we jumped on it,” Bob Kraft said. “We are so thrilled to have the privilege of being able to be a part of this.”
And Kraft likes what he sees: “I wish all 32 owners would. I think every college in the country should do it, every municipality. “
And Friday, the NFL has said it will make all of its stadiums available. So, with Coors Field in Denver, State Farm Stadium near Phoenix, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, a growing list of mega-venues will be part of the solution.
Aubrey asked: “Footballers are used to the two-minute drill down there on the pitch. Sounds like a two minute exercise here?
“We had to learn to do the two-minute exercise 2,000 times a day,” Gawande said.
Within weeks, CIC Health, the company he co-founded, brought in teams of vaccinators and support staff to help match people with appointments.
Rodrigo Martinez of CIC Health participated in the operation overseas. Appointments are made as doses become available. “This vial contains ten doses,” he explained. “All the different syringes get a sticker and a registration, and we have six hours to use them.”
It only takes a few minutes to move each person. “If for some reason someone may be feeling a little dizzy or in need of medical attention, we have two different teams with paramedics and paramedics,” Martinez said.
And to mark the occasion, those who receive vaccines are invited to enter the stadium. “Is this time for celebration here?” Aubrey asked.
“It’s true,” Martinez said. “This is really an opportunity for all of us to communicate the importance of getting vaccinated, not just for us and our families, but for our community and our country. It is really important for all of us.”
There is always time for selfies and smiles.
“Very excited to be vaccinated today,” said Dominique Page. “Probably kissing my grandma. Very excited for that!”
Page and Susan Garrett, both healthcare professionals, say there’s a lot to celebrate. “I feel very relieved,” Garrett said. “It’s just the feeling of feeling safe, more secure, should I say.”
Aubrey asked Gawande, “Your supplies, do you have enough to keep up?”
“We don’t have enough, but we could do a lot more and we will do a lot more because there are more offers,” he replied.
Vaccine manufacturers must produce millions of additional doses per week. Authorization of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would help. But with such a gigantic company, shortages are possible
“We ran out of swabs for testing,” Gawande said. “Here we don’t have enough syringes. Producing enough that everyone in the world can get two injections in their arm, we weren’t doing that three months ago, four months ago.”
And yet another challenge: new strains of the virus could make vaccines less effective. The good news is, there is also a way around that, said Gawande: “Part of what makes them such a game changer. These vaccines are going to be adaptable almost on the fly.”
“So, can you retool the vaccine to fight the new strain of the virus?” Aubrey asked.
“You’re absolutely right. You can completely retool and change the formulation to work against one of the new strains.”
With the pandemic far from over, Dr Gawande is relieved to finally have a game plan: “See what I saw in the hospital when our intensive care units were overwhelmed, and now see doctors make it happen, it brings tears to my eyes. It’s a return to normal. And I don’t know how to better contribute. “
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Story produced by Amol Mhatre. Publisher: David Bhagat.