Dose of success: GCU administers 50,000th vaccine

One hundred to 150 volunteers each day, six days a week, man GCU's COVID-19 Point of Dispensing site, where volunteers on Thursday administered the 50,000th dose of the vaccine. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

Editor's note: For information and FAQs about the GCU Point of Dispensing site, click here. The GCU POD is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday for those who have an appointment and qualify under Maricopa County Department of Public Health guidelines.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Grand Canyon University senior nursing major Jacqueline Walker knows why she returns to volunteer at the University’s COVID-19 vaccination Point of Dispensing site — and was there Thursday as the POD hit a milestone, administering the 50,000th dose of the life-saving vaccine.

Senior nursing student Jacqueline Walker has been at the vaccine dispensing site multiple times. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

“I was working at check-in that day and there was a woman who came with a friend in her car. Her friend was getting the vaccine, and she was wondering if she would be able to get the vaccine, too. She was immunocompromised, and she was above the required age range to get the vaccine, so I was able to make her an appointment for a future date.

“She started crying as soon as I told her I was able to make it. It meant so much to her,” said Walker, donning her yellow-striped safety vest, iPad in hand, and flitting from vehicle to vehicle as she signed up Arizonans for their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“She was saying she was SO scared of getting it (COVID), and she was not able to make an appointment at the other PODs. But she was really impressed with how quickly we were able to do it, and she was so grateful to be able to get the chance to get the vaccine.”

Grand Canyon University Emergency Preparedness Manager Marcus Castle calls GCU’s vaccine dispensing site “The Little Four-Lane POD that Could" — a site that couldn't do what it does without its volunteers, about 600 to 850 of them a week.

Volunteers prepare the vaccine in the dilution room. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

The POD, which GCU operates in partnership with Maricopa County, had modest goals when it opened just six weeks ago. Castle and fellow POD leader Connie Colbert, Director of the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic, hoped to administer 500 to 800 vaccinations a day at the four-lane site.

But they knew the POD site could go bigger. The goal almost as soon as the site opened grew to 1,000 vaccinations per day.

Now Castle and Colbert are hoping to reach 2,000 vaccinations per day and almost hit that mark after administering a new daily high of 1,968 vaccines on Wednesday.

The site, which opened as a five-day-a-week facility at the University's 27th Avenue business complex, now operates six days a week, 10 hours a day. It would be a seven-day-a-week operation if more vaccines were available, Castle said.

The site also touts a speedy throughput, meaning volunteers move vaccine recipients through the line at a quick clip. Castle believes GCU’s POD, though it may not be the largest, may have the fastest throughput among the sites in the county, an efficiency he credits in large part to teams such as Event Services and Welcome Programs, the campus’ experts in traffic flow and event set-up.

He also credits that efficiency to the volunteers.

Unlike other vaccination sites, GCU’s POD is not contracted with the county or state and thus does not receive government funding to operate the POD.

Emergency Preparedness Manager Marcus Castle (left, in purple) speaks with team leaders.

“We’re doing this just to help the community,” Colbert said of the site, which is dedicated to serving the vulnerable population in its west Phoenix neighborhood.

It is the only POD in the county that offers a walk-through option for those who might not have vehicles of their own and depend on public transportation. It is the only site, as well, with a help registry so volunteers can assist anyone who might not have a computer or the internet at home or who might not be comfortable with technology.

The POD couldn’t do what it does, simply put, without those volunteers — a LOT of them.

One hundred to 150 student and staff volunteers, along with volunteers from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health Medical Reserve Corps, staff the site every day.

Sisters Katrina and Kayla Martin (from left), both GCU students, said what they love about volunteering at the site is talking to the people getting their vaccine. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

Kayla Martin, a GCU junior film major, was volunteering at the POD for the third day this week with her sister Katrina Martin, a GCU senior studying graphic design.

What they love about being at the vaccination site is visiting with the people who come through the line.

“We’ve met a lot of really nice people, just volunteers and people who are getting their vaccinations,” said Katrina. “We were chatting with an older couple the other day pretty much the whole time they were here.”

“During their 15-minute observation period, they were talking pretty much about their life,” added Kayla. “We actually had a lot of things in common with them because they were into photography and music, and the guy was commenting on my shoes because I was wearing Converse. We were talking about how he wore that all throughout high school.”

But beyond those everyday conversations, Katrina said, “People definitely make it worthwhile. They’re so nice. They’re very grateful. They’re very happy and positive.”

Mahdis Moghtaderi, who graduated from GCU in December, was at the vaccination POD for the fourth time. People are so grateful to get the vaccine, she said. (Photo by Lana Sweeten-Shults)

Mahdis Moghtaderi, who graduated from the GCU advertising and graphic design program in the fall, was volunteering at the vaccine dispensing site for the fourth time.

“I just really wanted to do my part and help out the community,” said Moghtaderi, who was volunteering as a scribe, which means looking up registered vaccine recipients, asking them where they wanted their vaccine administered, and filling out their vaccination cards.

She said the feedback she gets from those vaccine recipients keeps her coming back.

“Mostly they just want to say thank you for your service — thank you for what you’re doing. It just makes me feel good about myself,” she said.

When Moghtaderi heard that GCU was about to administer its 50,000th vaccination, she was surprised: “Today? Oh, that’s awesome! That’s good to hear.”

Freshman business administration major Grace Sanderson, who helped man the check-in area, was a third-time volunteer at the site.

“I just really enjoy volunteering here,” she said as high-energy music in the background helped set the tone for the day. “It’s one of the more fun volunteer opportunities. It’s fast-paced. You don’t get bored.”

Walker, who’s also a student worker for the University’s Emergency Preparedness Department, has administered vaccines at other locations as a nursing student. But she loves GCU’s site and volunteers there even beyond her student worker duties.

A volunteer takes information from a vaccine recipient. Castle said GCU has a fast throughput, meaning volunteers get people vaccinated and in and out of the site quickly.

“I just love seeing how excited everyone gets,” she said, adding that she often sees not just individual students and employees coming out to volunteer but GCU’s sports teams, too. “It’s a fun environment. Today, someone told me this is what America is all about.

“I think seeing the impact that it makes on everyone is really inspiring to me because I am going into the health care field. It’s so amazing how quickly we were able to do this and get everyone protected from a horrible virus. It’s just the GCU community coming together to make this work so well. It’s awesome.”

Linda and Josh Figueroa traveled to the GCU vaccination site from Gilbert on Thursday.

“They have been so awesome,” Linda said of the volunteers, who were more than happy to visit with them as they made their way through the vaccination lanes in about 15 minutes before stopping at the observation area for their 15-minute post-vaccination observation period. “They were so quick and so kind. They took care of us all along the way.”

“It’s just in our nature,” Castle said of GCU's community of students and staff wanting to care for their neighbors and also wanting to excel and push themselves to the next level. “We got to 50,000, now let’s strive to 100,000. And the volunteers are on board. ‘Fifty thousand? Oh, let’s do 100,000!’”

It could be what’s next for The Little Four-Lane POD that could.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

***

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