Two weeks ago, local QFC leadership got some good news: Their pharmacies were about to receive hundreds of doses of the COVID vaccine from the federal government. But it was up to the company to figure out how to administer the doses—no easy task, given the cramped confines of an average supermarket pharmacy.
Fortunately, a local nonprofit called Business Health Trust was ready to lend some assistance. BHT was founded to help hundreds of small businesses provide health insurance to their employees, but, throughout the pandemic, executive director Sarai Childs has broadened the organization's mission to take advantage of any wellness opportunities that arise. As luck would have it, she’d spent the last few weeks touring various vaccination sites to learn about best practices, just in case there was an opportunity to create one here in Seattle.
That preparation paid off when QFC came calling. In just a few days, BHT mobilized their contacts in the Seattle small business community, drawing 50 to 60 volunteers to a pop-up vaccination site in White Center. They expect a similarly sized force to help with another planned pop-up site in Bellevue this week.
The goal: Get the vaccine into hundreds of arms, without wasting a single dose.
“We vaccinated 986 people last Thursday and Friday,” Sarai said. “Every single dose last week was used.”
Their first vaccination event took place at Evergreen High School. Despite the first-of-its-kind partnership between this group of organizations, the event ran with a polished efficiency: QFC received the vaccines; BHT reached out to local organizations to get the word out; the pharmacists administered the shots; and volunteers recruited from local businesses and nonprofits helped get patients safely where they needed to be.
They were able to move about 450 people through the system each day, “Disneyland style,” Sarai said, and were even able to hand out a mask and hand sanitizer goody bag at the end of the process.
One of the top priorities was ensuring equity, which means reaching populations that might have had trouble obtaining a vaccine on their own.
“There were a lot of eligible folks, but they haven’t been able to get appointments because they don’t have the same access to technology,” Sarai said. She noted that her parents run a janitorial company that has been cleaning a lot of COVID clinics lately; though their staff were able to get priority vaccinations, many weren’t sure what they were getting or able to ask questions due to language barriers. The janitorial company wound up sending their own supervisors to the clinics along with staffers to help translate.
That experience helped inform the setup at the QFC/BHT vaccination sites, with translators present at registration to make sure the process would run smoothly for everyone.
Seattle and King County officials have spoken repeatedly about the importance of equitable vaccine distribution, and are scrambling to fill in the gaps that the private health care sector misses. The city and county are in the process of opening numerous sites in partnership with community-based organizations such as Southeast Seattle Senior Center.
"The pandemic has hit our senior communities hard, said Lynda Greene, SSSC's Executive Director, in a statement released by the mayor's office. "So many of the seniors we serve don’t have a computer or don’t have access to a computer in order to schedule a vaccination appointment. Many seniors no longer drive so transportation is a challenge."
Currently, King County reports that about 74% of people over the age of 75 have had at least one vaccine visit; about 67% of people between 65 and 74; and about 24% of people between 50 and 64. The state has been vaccinating those first two age groups since mid-January.
The city is also collaborating with Swedish and UW Medicine on mobile vaccination teams that prioritize elders in low-income housing, as well as neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates.
In general, the mood at the QFC/BHT event was overwhelmingly upbeat, with no trepidation or anti-vax skepticism to worry about. The vibe has been one of overwhelming relief.
“Everyone we talked to was really glad to be there,” Sarai says. “When you look back on last week, what the team was able to accomplish — 986 people getting one step closer to having really good immunity, 986 people who won’t die or won’t affect a vulnerable person in their life.”
In her voice, there’s the familiar mix of adrenaline and exertion that’s characteristic of many workers for whom the end of the pandemic is now in sight.
“It’s a really incredible experience to tangibly contribute to a path forward and literally help save lives,” she says. “I'm not a doctor, but I was able to have a small part in solving this pandemic. It is overwhelming.”