GW community members helped administer about 2,500 COVID-19 vaccines during D.C.’s first high-capacity vaccination event.
By Thomas Kohout
More than 120 students, faculty and staff from the George Washington University’s academic clinical enterprise, including the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), the School of Nursing, the Milken Institute School of Public Health and The GW Medical Faculty Associates (GW MFA), were out in force on Saturday to support the D.C. government’s effort to administer COVID-19 vaccines to District residents.
The event, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was the city’s first “high-capacity” vaccination event. Over the course of the day, GW volunteers vaccinated approximately 2,500 people with the new, single-dose Johnson & Johnson viral vector COVID-19 vaccine.
“This vaccination clinic is key because it opens access and makes it easy to get these vaccines,” said William Borden, professor of medicine at SMHS and chief quality and population health officer at the GW MFA, who is managing the vaccine distribution efforts for the GW MFA. “We felt really honored that Washington, D.C., leadership would allow us to help them serve the community and provide this life-saving vaccine to as many people as possible.”
The high-capacity clinic was open to city residents who fell into one of the top three vaccine distribution tiers. Thousands of residents took advantage of the opportunity to be get vaccinated, and they easily flowed through the process, leaving social media buzzing with praise for the smooth execution and positive experience.
“Today’s #COVID19 mass vaccination site at the Convention Center was one of the smoothest operations I’ve seen in a long time. Well done!” –@pwolgin tweeted.
City resident and New York Times staffer Emily Stefek echoed many attendees, saying, “I felt so relieved, I teared up walking over here. This is such a great experience. It’s very surreal. … I am so thankful that everyone is here. I am so relieved.”
Drew Maurano, director of event and operational medicine at the GW MFA, who has a long track record of planning and implementing large scale events in D.C., led the team – composed of emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses and other GW leaders, alumni and student allied health professionals.
“From the beginning of the COVID response, GW has tried to be a leader in the response to see how we can help patients and to help the community,” Dr. Maurano said. “It was a pleasure for D.C. to ask us to partner with them to help us get to the next level [of vaccinating residents]. The end goal is to get to herd immunity – it’s going to take some time to do that. We need to look at innovative ways to get there.”
Running an event of this magnitude, he added, “is not just putting a shot in an arm.” It requires planning on many different levels including scheduling, organizing, setting it up, prepping vaccines, giving vaccines, checking in, checking out and making sure there are no adverse reactions.
The scale of the event caused some anxiety for student Flora Wang, a senior enrolled in the SMHS physician assistant program, as she made her way to volunteer in the observation area where people go following their vaccination so staff can watch for any adverse reactions. “I am here with many of my school classmates, and once we saw how glad everyone was to be here, to get vaccinated at this great event, all that nervous energy turned into excitement,” she said. “I am so happy to be able to help out.”
Bonnie R. Sakallaris, who oversees the student-run COVID-19 testing clinic at GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus, said GW Nursing students have been involved in vaccination efforts throughout the region, including the Saturday event. “I think the thing our students like so much about volunteering for this event is that they feel like they're contributing,” Dr. Sakallaris said. “They have excellent nursing clinical skills and they are able to use them in a way that is making a difference in impacting the pandemic response.”
Standing arm-in arm with GW colleagues as the event wound down, Dr. Borden added, “For my whole career, but especially this year, I have been so proud of fellow health care workers stepping up in so many ways. Their bravery, courage, compassion. Today is just another example. I’m proud to be with my GW colleagues today.”
Below are photos from the opening: