Hundreds of local educators and residents received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at a pop-up, drive-through clinic hosted at Yelm High School.
About 430 people were pre-registered to receive the poke when staff from Tim’s Pharmacy and Gift Shop and Yelm Community Schools opened the gates at Tornado Alley that morning.
The event was the largest mass vaccination effort held so far in the Yelm area.
It was a new experience for the locally-owned pharmacy, said owner Will Quinby.
“We’ve been scrambling to put this together, to be honest with you, but it’s been really, really good so far. The school district’s been great to work with,” Quinby said. “We’re thrilled that people who have been looking for the vaccine for a long time will be able to get it, too.”
Saturday’s event, which ran all day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., was a collaboration between Thurston County, the school district and Tim’s Pharmacy to get K-12 educators, district staff and eligible child care workers at Yelm, Rainier and Tenino districts vaccinated.
It was also one of many local clinics held last weekend in Thurston County. The county that same day was holding a similar clinic for K-12 educators at South Puget Sound Community College, and one was also planned Sunday for the eligible general public.
As of Saturday afternoon, approximately 69,140 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to Thurston County residents. There had been 232,994 doses administered in Pierce County. Just over 10 percent of Thurston residents and 9.58 percent of Pierce County residents are fully vaccinated from the virus.
Thurston County received its largest allotment so far of vaccines the week of March 8-14. According to the county, roughly 8,710 first doses and 1,000 second doses were allocated this last week.
Vaccination efforts remain focused on people 65 years and older, first responders, health care workers and, most recently, educators. Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced the state would be opening up vaccinations earlier for populations such as grocery store workers and people over the age of 16 who are pregnant or have a high-risk disability.
Teri Pablo, Yelm Community Schools communications director, said pre-registration for Saturday’s event initially opened for educators but later opened up for anyone age 65 and older and first responders.
“I think that there was a lot of requests up front after the announcement from the president and governor,” Pablo said, referring to recent reprioritizing to get the nation’s educators to the front of the line.
Organizers had 500 doses of the vaccine available, stored in refrigerators at the high school and in a ice chest Saturday. Quinby said in addition to being a one-dose shot, the major advantage of the J&J shots is that they can be stored at standard refrigerator temperatures.
One downside is that they only last about two hours from the time they’re drawn out of its vial into a syringe at room temperature. Providers also have to use the vaccine within seven days time, Quinby said, so there’s definitely a time crunch to getting these vaccines distributed.
“The hardest part on this scale is the logistics of it,” Quinby said.
But Saturday’s clinic saw a relatively steady stream of patients and it seemed to move smoothly. At the end of the first hour, Quinby noted they were well on track to meet the day’s quota.
Rows of vehicles backed up across the lot from the six tents where the vaccines were administered. Local EMTs and firefighters from Southeast Thurston Fire Authority stood by while patients waited in their vehicles for the allotted 15 minutes to make sure no one experienced any adverse side effects.
“This is exciting. This is what we do on our day-to-day, so it’s not a huge difference to change the scale,” said Courtney Quinby, Tim’s Pharmacy co-owner and pharmacist. “It’s been exciting to have our own communities take care of our own communities.”
Planning for the clinic took less than a week, Will Quinby said, and they reached out to the school district fairly quickly after being notified they would be getting the large allotment. When reaching out to Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, Quinby said he specifically asked for the J&J vaccine.
Tim’s Pharmacy has been regularly administering the two-shot Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which requires different storage compared to the J&J, though both have been found to be highly effective in preventing lethal symptoms caused by the virus. Quinby said they received their first allotment of vaccines about a month ago -–roughly 100 doses that last about three days.
Quinby said it’s been nice to see demand for the vaccines begin to level out.
The poke only took an average of a couple minutes to administer, and patients were overall grateful to receive the one-and-done shot — though, perhaps some more than others.
“I’m not a needle person unless it’s about giving blood,” said Gary Clinton, a sports med teacher at Yelm High School, who was among those receiving the vaccine during the weekend clinic.
Most said they hardly felt the poke or noted that it felt like a slight pinch.
“It was perfect. Not even a little pinch,” said Tina Sparks, a district food service worker, from her pickup truck.
Yelm Superintendent Brian Wharton was among those volunteering to help host the clinic. He said the planning had been well worth it and that it had been going smoothly.
“These things don’t just magically happen,” he said. “We’re counting our blessings, and are very thankful for all those who’ve helped out.”