Inside a drive-through COVID vaccine center for health care workers




A Queen Creek firefighter monitors traffic at a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in Chandler on Dec. 31, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The lines of traffic filled with front-line health care workers and those most vulnerable who had just received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Chandler was by design at the point of dispensing, or POD. 

The POD in Chandler, situated at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College, plans to take about 6,850 appointments per day. 

“It’s intended to back up,” said Heather James, Operations Chief for Dignity Health, referring to the several lanes of traffic in the parking-lot-turned-triage-center where members of the Chandler, Mesa and Queen Creek fire departments and the Arizona National Guard monitored those who just recently got the shot. James is overseeing the Chandler vaccination site.

The reason for the lines of cars is to monitor those who just received their first dose of the two-step vaccine. After receiving the first dose, patients have to wait between 15 and 30 minutes to ensure there are no adverse reactions. 

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Cars wait in line at a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in Chandler on Dec. 31, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Every car has a mark on the windshield with a dry erase marker that lets the medical teams know how long each car has been there. Once their vitals are given the all-clear, patients are given some paperwork from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the vaccine and are sent home. 

“You almost over-organize this,” James said about how she and her team spent 3 weeks planning how they would organize the system to allow for the safest and speediest way for vaccines to be administered. “It’s kinda just about getting everyone on the same board.” 

The POD James organized can see about 36,000 people in ten days, and was averaging about 480 people an hour. James was picked specifically to helm the Chandler POD due to her experience with drive-thru COVID testing, James said. 

Since April of last year, she and her team have been conducting drive-through tests and she took the lessons she learned there on “what to tweak and what not to tweak.” 

James met with members of law enforcement as well to ensure safety for all involved. Her team met with the Chandler Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to plan security for the dispersal. 

On Dec. 31, hundreds of cars came and went at a steady pace throughout the day through the multiple lanes set up in the parking lot at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Right now, the only people who can receive vaccines are those in what’s known as Group 1A, which includes health care workers, residents at long-term care facilities and staff at those facilities.

In the near future, vaccinations will open up to Group 1B, which includes teachers, law enforcement adults over the age of 75, adults living in high-risk congregate settings and other essential workers.

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Maricopa County Public Health Executive Director Marcy Flanagan at a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in Chandler on Dec. 31, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

“When we open it up to the general public, you may not be coming to a POD like this,” Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Public Health, said. “You’re going to be able to go into your physician and pharmacy at some point but those in 1B may go to a combination.” 

So while the general public may not wait in their car in James’ POD, those who may fall into category 1B may, depending on what vaccine disbursement options are available when the time comes. 

As of Jan. 3, Arizona has dispersed 90,880 vaccines, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Gov. Doug Ducey and the state have been looking to speed up the rollout of the vaccine and get the 314,000 doses it has received so far into distribution. 

For anyone who does find themselves in James’s POD, she has one piece of advice. 

“You better be pretty convinced you’re getting the vaccine by the time you get here,” James said, because backing out or turning around once you get in line is pretty much out of the question.