Worth the wait: More than 1,000 people in Juneau vaccinated against COVID-19 during weekend clinic

Khalid Srour, a pharmacist at Bartlett Regional Hospital, prepares Pfizer’s vaccine during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday, in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Over the weekend, Juneau’s COVID-19 response team hosted a vaccine clinic for people 65 and older and health care workers who hadn’t already been vaccinated.

At exactly 4 p.m. on Friday evening, a line started to form outside of Centennial Hall in downtown Juneau.

A puppy leashed near the entrance yipped loudly as the group of elderly residents stood six feet from each other and, despite the gusts of wind whipping them with rain, waited politely for the doors to open.

Some of the dozens of volunteers marveled at how willing people were to wait patiently. For four hours, despite the lines and registration technology that clearly baffled some, no one could recall any complaining from the hundreds of Juneau residents who were inoculated against COVID-19 on Friday night.

Some people came to the clinic alone. Others, like Richard and Gail Hattan walked hand-in-hand inside the building, stopping to show their identification to a woman with a clipboard who checked their names off of a list.

Gail and Richard Hattan wait in line during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Richard said he managed to get appointments for both of them during the 25 minutes that the city’s registration website was open before all the slots filled up.

“It was easy. The website was really good. Much better than the state website,” he said.

There are about 4,500 Juneau residents who qualify for the vaccine — people 65 and older or frontline healthcare workers, but the city made appointments available for 1,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. In the end, they vaccinated more than that over the course of the weekend since some vials of the Pfizer vaccine yield a few bonus doses.

By the end of the weekend, 10% of Juneau’s Pfizer-vaccine eligible population (people aged 16 and older) were thought to have been vaccinated, according to Robert Barr, Juneau’s Emergency Operations Chief.

Everyone who got a dose has to be able to come back in early February to get their second. There’s a QR code on the back of an inoculation card given during registration that people can use to book that second appointment.

Maria Rogers answers questions as she gets registered for her second vaccine appointment during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

That gave people like Maria Rogers pause. She walked through the clinic wearing a shirt that read “Matriarch. The Woman. The Myth. The Legend.”

She said she’s the oldest member of her family. She didn’t register herself for an appointment to get the vaccine because she doesn’t do computers. She said the light isn’t good for her eyes and makes it hard to see her crocheting. Her husband did it for her.

Each person who made their way to a vaccination station in the ballroom of Centennial Hall was asked several questions about allergies and reactions to previous vaccines. Then, they had to pick an arm — the injection site can be sore afterwards — and then relax it enough for the 0.3 milliliter injection to be quickly absorbed into the muscle. It doesn’t have to go any deeper than one that goes into the vein and many people said they didn’t feel it at all.

Of the more than 1,100 doses administered during the weekend clinic, there was only one reported adverse reaction, but it was described by paramedics as mild and not anaphylactic.

Elaine Hickey, a public health nurse, gives a Juneau man an injection during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

After she got her shot, Rogers slowly made her way to the other side of the ballroom to sit in a waiting area set up for the newly vaccinated. Everyone has to wait between 15 – 30 minutes to make sure they don’t have a reaction to the vaccine or need medical attention. A tent in the corner was filled with snacks and drinks.

Rogers took a chair and a volunteer sat down nearby with an iPad to help her register for her next appointment. It took several minutes and a lot of questions to set everything up.

“Are you pregnant?” the volunteer asked.

“That would be interesting,” Rogers said, laughing.

When they were done, she picked up her knitted bag and dug through it. “I thought I was going to crochet,” she said.

“Oh, you can now. You still probably have a few minutes left,” the volunteer told her. Then she checked the time and said “Oh! Actually, you can go if you’re feeling good.”

Rogers stood up to go catch her husband before he came inside for his appointment.

Some people said they felt like they were part of a historical moment.

“I’m so excited to be part of this,” said Bartlett Emergency Department Director Kim McDowell, who was immunizing people. “It’s just, it’s amazing. It’s such an honor to be part of the community immunizations…So many people are happy to be here.”

Pualei Galletes, officer manager at Juneau Public Health, directs people into the main hall after registering them during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Other staff said they were relieved the night had gone so smoothly.

The staff didn’t have their full names listed on the name tags they wore on their chests.

“They told us not to use our last names,” said Michelle Brown, a greeter at the front door. “Just in case someone wants to go slash our tires I guess.”

But that didn’t happen. There were no protestors or people who didn’t seem like they wanted to be there.

Juneauites came in waves, about every half hour. And they were moved through each station quickly — in and out in about 20 minutes.

This went on for four hours until nearly 400 people had been vaccinated. At the end of the night on Friday, with just a handful of vaccine shots left over, Barr called up some residents who are on the waiting list to see if they could get to Centennial Hall quickly.

Juneau’s Emergency Operations Manager Robert Barr and Rebecca Embler, a member of Bartlett Hospital quality team during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The same thing happened again on Saturday evening. After making it through the roughly 360 people who had made appointments, Barr said they had about 17 shots left over. So, they called some more people on the list to see if they could come early.

One of them, Blake Rider, was volunteering to help with the clinic on Sunday.

He ran up the steps to the convention center and enthusiastically checked in with the woman at the front door. His grin was visible through his mask.

“This is like, one of the best days of my life,” he said. “I feel like it’s the beginning of the end.”

Rashah McChesney

Daily News Editor

I help the newsroom establish daily news priorities and do hands-on editing to ensure a steady stream of breaking and enterprise news for a local and regional audience.

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