COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — A common phrase can be heard when visiting with people at the UCHealth COVID vaccine clinic on East Pikes Peak Avenue: It was fast.
"It was zip, done, and ready to go home," said Kay Miller.
"The way it's set up here, it's beautiful," added Dick Koprowksi.
He'd come expecting a much longer wait, as did Bill Couch.
"We have heard news from relatives that got the shot in other states and they waited hours in long lines outside and this was fast," Couch said.
Larry Tremel, the Pharmacy Director for UCHealth, said more than 1,100 people had pre-scheduled vaccination appointments this Friday. Roughly 300 more doses of vaccine were distributed between a smaller clinic UCHealth Memorial North and the company's mobile unit which brings vaccines to seniors living in assisted living facilities.
Tremel estimates they will be able to administer around 5,000 doses a week.
"I think this would rival some of the mobile drive-thrus that you're seeing around the country, plus we're not competing against the elements and the weather."
Vaccines are distributed according to state guidelines. Only those in priority groups 1A and 1B are eligible. The first group consists of frontline health care workers and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The second group includes first responders and members of the general public who are age 70 and older.
Reservations are required. Walk-ins are not permitted. When a patient calls to uses the UCHealth website to make an appointment, they're given two dates. One for the first shot, and another for the follow-up dose.
"We're already registered for February 19, at 9:00," said Koproski.
After patients receive their shots, they are provided with 3x5 cards from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those cards record name, date of birth, and date of vaccination of each patient, along with the name and lot number of vaccines given.
They must also wait for 15 minutes to be observed for any adverse reactions to the vaccine. Chairs are spaced apart in a large waiting room where bottles of water and hand sanitizer are made available. As patients are admitted, they are taken directly to one of the booths that line the outer walls of the room to receive their shots. Meanwhile, a group at a table nearby fills a steady supply of pre-loaded syringes.
Tremel said it takes a lot of planning to keep the line moving efficiently. The vaccine manufacturers require doses to be used within five days of thawing to avoid spoilage. Each vial must be used within six hours of being opened.
"I'm happy to say at UCHealth, the number of doses that have had to be wasted are because of mechanical failure such as the syringe, not because we couldn't find arms to stick it in," he said.
Receiving the vaccine holds special meaning for each of the patients here. Koprowksi and his wife Evelyn regularly volunteer at the Marion House. They follow the safety precautions and even helped to package up meals-to-go while the county was under Level Red restrictions.
"That's what hurts me is that we haven't seen a lot of our friends at the soup kitchen for a long time, they can't come," Evelyn said.
For Kay Miller, it's the simple pleasure of life like visiting Hobby Lobby without feeling afraid.
"I was excited. It was like, two more weeks and I can actually go grocery shopping," she joked. "You know, and just do things like go back up and volunteer at the cat house."
Couch said he was amazed at how quickly the vaccine was developed and felt grateful to be able to get the shot so soon.
"I just feel fortunate to be in a city and a country where I can get a vaccine in less than one year," he said.
Their sense of relief having received the vaccine is shared by those who are here at the clinic working to make it happen.
"You really feel the reward when these people thank you," Tremel said. "We've had folks cry, we've probably taken more photos than you've taken."
The 15-minute wait is mandatory to monitor for anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that can be triggered by any vaccine. Tremel said the rates of those reactions both locally and nationally are noticeably lower for the COVID vaccines than what is typically observed with the seasonal flu vaccines.
He said some patients have reported feeling sore after receiving their second dose of vaccine.
"We're seeing typically after the second dose, more of a flu-like achy type of feeling, joint pain, muscle pain."
As of Friday afternoon, some 44,600 doses of COVID vaccine have been administered throughout El Paso County. The health department is working with a group of health care provider partners to administer the vaccines.
To register to get on a list to receive a vaccination, UCHealth, call their hotline at 720-462-2255 or visit UCHealth.org.