Walk-through option steps up COVID vaccinations

Volunteers at GCU's new COVID-19 vaccine dispensing site administered 770 vaccines on opening day Tuesday.

Editor's note: Get more information about the GCU vaccination site here.

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

Sylvester Thomas chatted it up with everyone in line at the walk-through area of Grand Canyon University’s newly opened COVID-19 vaccination site.

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

If he wasn’t a morning person before, the jovial Thomas was a morning person at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, despite standing outside in the plummeting January temperatures. He was ecstatic at being next in line to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which he hopes will protect him and the other 75-plus-year-olds in line with him. They want to be safe from an unforgiving virus that has taken the lives of so many and wreaked havoc on the economy over the past year.

“I don’t have a computer at home,” said Thomas, who lives in the neighborhood near GCU and hasn’t been able to navigate the system that's in place to even sign up for an appointment.

He has heard the horror stories: “The website won’t let you on and appointments are booked up way out,” he said. “... If you’re saving lives, just save them.”

But here he was, at the University's 27th Avenue commercial hub on the opening day of GCU’s vaccination Point of Dispensing site, or POD, receiving his vaccine. With a round sticker on his chest denoting when he was administered his dose (at 9:07 a.m.), he had to wait 15 minutes in the observation area to make sure he didn’t have any adverse reactions to the drug before being on his way.

It was a long road here, but Part 1 of his mission was accomplished. Now there's Part 2 remaining – to get his booster dose of the two-parter vaccine administration three weeks from now.

The first day of the vaccine dissemination went “very well,” said Connie Colbert, Director of the campus’ Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic and a central player on the University’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Once the Pfizer vaccine vial is punctured, it must be used within six hours.

Volunteers at the site on Tuesday were able to administer 770 vaccines, she said, bolstering the University’s hopes of eventually giving 800 to 1,000 doses to the community every day the site is open, which is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday in its first week. 

For the first week of vaccinations at the site, 5115 N. 27th Ave., the county asked GCU to focus on those needing the second dose of the vaccine, though that focus was expanded to include those meeting the Phase 1B criteria: those 75 and older, such as Thomas, along with school staff, first responders and Arizonans in Phase 1A who have yet to be vaccinated.

GCU is working with Maricopa County public health officials to determine the populations with the greatest need.

The fact that Thomas was able to walk through and receive a vaccine is unusual – no other regional POD has a walk-through option. It is designed for those who do not have a car and might not be able to get their vaccine at a drive-through-only venue. Moreover, the walk-through area makes the vaccine more accessible, particularly to under-served and vulnerable populations, such as those communities in the west Phoenix neighborhoods around GCU that are among the hardest hit when it comes to coronavirus numbers.

Also: “The one thing we did that others are not doing is we helped many elderly people schedule appointments,” Colbert said. “Many of the elderly do not have access to a computer or have difficulty signing up for an appointment.”

GCU was able to remove those barriers.

“We were able to assist in helping them get appointments. Many of them were given appointments today, and the remainder have appointments set for this week.” 

It is important, Colbert emphasized, that anyone visiting a POD have an appointment before heading out (register for an appointment at podvaccine.azdhs.gov). “But if they need assistance with scheduling an appointment, we are here to help,” she said.

Like Thomas, Jim Lee had problems making an appointment. That worried him since he says he has underlying medical conditions. He brought a letter from his doctor with him to the site.

About 100-150 volunteers are needed to man the site each day it is open.

“I tried to get on the system, but it did not allow me. This is why the walk-through is good,” said Lee, who traveled to GCU from north Scottsdale to receive his vaccine. He was happy to be able to make an appointment and ecstatic to see this day come.

Maria Lemmon, too, was thrilled to finally get her dose.

“I’m very excited,” she said as she waited to turn the corner into Tent 1A, where GCU, Grand Canyon Education and Maricopa County Department of Public Health Medical Reserve Corps volunteers waited to dispense the vaccine to those in line. “I’m tired of this kind of life. I’ve seen my children twice since this started. I can’t wait to hug them,” she said.

University counselor Ariana Castaneda, who volunteered in the walk-through observation area, said though the 50-degree temperature wasn’t so pleasant, “people are really grateful to be here.”

Another volunteer, Arizona College of Nursing instructor Cyndi Luciano, was with several nursing students who were fulfilling some of their clinical hours at the site. Clinical hours have been hard to come by as medical facilities limited access to their sites because of the coronavirus. She and the student nurses were slated to be at the GCU POD all day.

GCU’s own nursing students have been dispatched to such sites as Banner and St. Joseph’s to also fill clinical rotations and help administer vaccines.

“The students love it,” Luciano said. “They’re getting good experience not only giving an injection but on how to talk to people – that’s hard to do in a classroom. You have to be with patients to learn how to do that.”

At the drive-through area, Kathlene Armstrong said she waited several weeks for this moment. She contracted COVID and, now recovered, said, “I’m very anxious to get this (vaccine) so I don’t get it again.”

Her son, who’s a nurse, told her that he’s around illness all the time, but Armstrong wanted to make sure, he, too, was taking care of himself: “Do it for me,” she told him.

GCU's site offers a walk-through area (pictured) and drive-through area.

Victor Smith and his wife of 50 years, Susan, drove to the GCU POD from Sun City North. She originally had an appointment at State Farm Stadium, but it didn’t save correctly. They felt blessed to able to get an appointment at GCU.

“The people here are very polite,” Victor said with a smile as the couple waited in the drive-through observation area before making their way back home.

“How are you guys feeling?” one of the GCU/GCE volunteers said to the couple.

He gave a big thumbs up when he was asked how excited he was to get the vaccine.

“We just got off the phone with one of our daughters,” Susan said.

Her daughter expressed what everyone seems to feel when they finally get their vaccine:

“She was cheering.”

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

***

How to sign up

  • For information on how to schedule a vaccine appointment for a family member, go to podvaccine.azdhs.gov. (Note that the GCU vaccination site closes down after slots are full and may not appear as a vaccination site choice when that happens; check back daily, however, because new appointments will open up.)
  • For other questions: email [email protected]

***

Related content

GCU Today: GCU vaccination site opens to public by appointment

GCU Today: GCU becomes vaccination site for COVID-19

AZFamily.com: GCU vaccination site with walk-through services now open

ABC15: Coronavirus vaccination site to open at Grand Canyon University on Jan. 26

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