First of several state-run indoor mass vaccination sites opens in Mesa
An indoor drive-thru mass vaccination facility opened Monday morning in Mesa, intended to serve the East Valley as approaching summer heat forces COVID-19 vaccination efforts inside.
The COVID-19 vaccination site, the first of several state-run indoor operations planned across the Phoenix area, is hosted inside the regional distribution center of Dexcom, a company that produces glucose monitoring products for people with diabetes.
"With the temperatures starting to push 100 degrees, we have been working to transition our vaccination sites indoors," said Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.
Holding operations inside will help protect staff, volunteers, patients, equipment and the vials themselves from extreme heat as days warm to triple digits, Christ said.
"Isn't this a cool event? And I mean that both literally and figuratively," said Mesa Mayor John Giles. "This is a very strategic location — you're going to see long lines and a lot of people utilizing this site ... from all parts of the state."
The Dexcom site is near Loop 202 and Power Road by Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus. It will replace the outdoor vaccination site at Chandler-Gilbert Community College and will begin by offering between 3,000 and 4,000 appointments a day, seven days a week, with hopes to increase capacity to 12,000.
Another indoor site is planned for WestWorld of Scottsdale, which will allow for walk-ups and will serve the north Valley and tribal communities. The Arizona Department of Health Services also announced that in early April, the State Farm Stadium vaccination site will convert to overnight operation and is moving into Gila River Arena later in the month.
Facility to offer thousands of indoor doses as weather warms
Seven lanes span the 30,000 square foot, climate-controlled interior of Dexcom's Mesa Regional Distribution Center dedicated to the Arizona Department of Health Service's newest vaccination operation.
Scores of volunteers, staff, National Guard members and police officers began beckoning in cars and sticking arms around noon Monday when the facility officially opened to the public. Among those in volunteer vests assisting the operation was Christ, who administered a first dose to a Dexcom employee Micaela Drewett.
"I think it's amazing," Drewett said from inside her van. "In the AZ heat, this is perfect."
According to James Kasselmann, general manager of Dexcom's Mesa operations, constant circulation of air pulled in from the ceiling and blown out of the building ensures that the site will remain properly ventilated while hundreds of cars idle inside each day.
The Mesa location is replacing the outdoor vaccination site held at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Those who received their first dose at the previous location on March 14 or later have been scheduled for their second dose at the new Mesa site.
State hopes to shift from mass vaccination events to more local efforts soon
As of Monday morning, more than 3.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given across the state, with nearly 1.5 million Arizonans fully inoculated, according to the Department of Health Services' data dashboard. More than 2.3 million Arizonans, or 32.7% of the state, have received at least one dose.
In recent days, interest in volunteering at the state-run vaccination sites has dropped dramatically after receiving a shot became easier when eligibility opened up to anyone over the age of 16 mid-March.
"Our role in the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs is to help do the site set up, planning and transition, bring the guardsmen in for the first couple, three days while we build out that huge, robust spirit of volunteerism in the state," said Major General Michael McGuire, who joined the Dexcom site opening alongside handfuls of other National Guard members.
"We're continuing to need those volunteers, not just at this site but at every state-run site ... as we continue to drive towards getting three and a half million of our fellow Arizonans, especially those most at risk, vaccinated by July 1."
Christ explained that recent open vaccination slots at Department of Health Services sites are taking longer to fill as vaccine supplies begin to meet high demand. As more people receive their vaccines, the state hopes to shift operations from high-volume vaccination events to more local and community-based efforts in April and May.
"We anticipate that the demand will start to slow a little bit," Christ said. "As we continue to get more vaccines, you'll see that shift, you'll see us doing less of these as people aren't as interested in coming to a mass vaccination site and having more availability at pharmacies as well as in community events."