By Alexandra Becker
Last week, Memorial Hermann Health System vaccinated approximately 14,500 community members against COVID-19 over the course of just four days. The event—admired for both its scope and operational efficiency—is now being hailed as a national model for future efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to the general population throughout the U.S.
So, what did it take to pull it off?
According to Binita Patel, Vice President of Pharmacy Services for Memorial Hermann Health System, the two key components were location and manpower.
“We had our sights set on NRG Park because of its size, its location and its partnerships,” Patel explained. “We knew they would be able to help us with our staffing model and the volume we hoped to fulfill within such a short period of time.”
In addition to the volunteers from the community, the drive-thru clinic was also staffed by volunteers from across the Memorial Hermann Health System as well as student volunteers from Texas Southern University School of Pharmacy and University of Houston College of Pharmacy. Harris County Constable Precinct 1 also provided police officers for added security for the event. In total, more than 700 individuals gave their time to the effort.
The event began on Thursday, Jan. 14 and ran through Sunday, Jan. 17, and was open to members of the Houston-area community 65 years of age and older, in accordance with Texas’ Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccination guidelines. It operated like a “drive-thru,” wherein pre-registered individuals entered via a dedicated gate at NRG Park and followed lanes lined with orange cones to a registration verification site. Individuals who met the age criteria and presented their registration and appointment confirmation along with a photo ID were then directed to a vaccination tent, where they opened their car door to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. After their shot, each was asked to enter an observation lot, where they remained in their cars for 15 minutes, per CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations.
“The monitoring site was staffed with clinical volunteers as well as a physician in case anyone needed additional clinical support,” Patel said. “We also had two Emergency Medical Services vehicles staffed with personnel onsite at all times.”
Individuals who were able to receive their vaccine said they were pleasantly surprised with how easy the process was.
“The whole event was amazingly organized, easy, fast and effortless,” said Amy Freeman, a community member who received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine at the clinic. “Everyone I encountered was smiling, thanking us for coming, and could not have been more professional or polite. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity—it is such a relief!”
Since the clinic concluded, Patel said she’s received calls from health systems across the U.S. asking for guidance on how to design similar large-scale vaccination events.
“We are more than willing to share how we did this,” Patel said. “There’s no advantage to us to holding that information. I’m telling everyone that now that we have this model, a clinic like this is fairly easy to replicate, and we’re providing our blueprint to whomever asks.”
Patel said that one of the components that bolstered the clinic’s success was the creation of a homegrown web tool as part of the registration process, which eliminated much of the required paperwork and allowed for each participant to be automatically integrated into Memorial Hermann’s electronic medical records. Not only did this create more efficiency onsite during the registration confirmation process, but it also supported follow-up efforts, since the vaccine requires a second dose. Notably, each participant will be returning to NRG Park for their second shot in the coming weeks.
Patel added that Memorial Hermann hopes to host additional COVID-19 vaccine clinics in the future as more and more doses become available. She said that success depends on how much allocation Memorial Hermann receives from the state, estimating that they would plan to vaccinate 5,000 community members a day during the course of another multi-day drive-thru clinic, depending on vaccine allocation.
“The main message I want to emphasize is that hosting an event like this is doable,” Patel said. “It’s very, very doable.”