In Seattle University’s Campion Ballroom, which in non-pandemic times is used as a large conference room and event space, more than 2,000 people a day are being vaccinated against COVID-19 through a clinic operated by Swedish Health Services.
The actual jabbing of the needle is only a small part of a multi-person operation needed to get one person vaccinated. Someone has to input the recipient’s health information, another has to look over charts for contraindications, a third must monitor the person for at least 15 minutes post-injection. Meanwhile, a group is sanitizing every pen, clipboard and bin that comes through, a team in the kitchen is prepping injections, greeters at the door and near the parking garage are directing people in the snaking line.
As the state begins its unprecedented push to vaccinate millions of its residents, an army is being assembled to help get the job done.
Depending on the site, the people helping the vaccination effort may be any of the following: a nurse, a pharmacist on a day off, a physician who came out of retirement, a first responder, a student, a high-powered company executive, a dental hygienist, a stay-at-home dad.
The Swedish clinic at Seattle University and its corps of health workers and volunteers offers a blueprint for mass-vaccination sites, and shows firsthand the staffing required as the state works toward an ambitious goal of vaccinating residents at a much larger scale. Representatives from the state health department have stopped by to observe the process, as have officials from Amazon and Starbucks.
This week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state hopes to soon administer 45,000 vaccines a day — three times the state’s currently daily average, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). Officials say 45,000 doses a day would cover about 70% of the population eligible for vaccines by June 2021.
Mass-vaccination sites will require thousands of people in a patchwork of labor with help from all pockets of the health community and beyond, health officials say, as the state moves into additional phases of people who are qualified to receive the vaccine.
“One could argue this is the biggest logistical problem to solve in the world,” said Kevin Brooks, chief operating officer for Swedish Health Services. “This is an amazing effort.”
It’s unclear how many workers will be needed across the various vaccine sites, from small pharmacies to clinics set up at stadiums, over the many months as more people become eligible based on age and health risks, but the number is easily in the thousands. Local health agencies and other providers have largely been on their own when it comes to staffing, but the new state plan includes staffing and volunteer coordination from unions that met this week.
“Our goal is to get vaccine to all in Washington as quickly as possible, and we are identifying challenges along the way and adjusting to address them,” said Franji Mayes of DOH, in an email. “We’ve identified many factors that needed to be attended to, and we know we need increased capacity as we open up to larger groups who are eligible for the vaccine.”
At the Swedish clinic, about 160 volunteers work at each of the two daily shifts and a smaller group is employed by Swedish as leads and support staff. The clinic began this month with 120 volunteers, but organizers soon realized they would need more to make sure everything ran smoothly as people took breaks, according to Renee Rassilyer-Bomers, administrative director of clinical education and practice.
Providers are relying heavily on volunteers, who have been turning out in droves. The wait list for the Swedish clinic has 8,200 volunteers. When UW Medicine posted in December that it was asking for volunteers, more than 700 people signed up in the first week, said Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy, medical director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at Harborview Medical Center.
“We were doing over 2,000 vaccines a day across our four hospital systems, and that is a lot of people to put a shot in the arm,” she said. “Without volunteers it would be really challenging to mobilize that workforce when we are already stretched out.”
Dr. Greg Roeben, a retired psychiatrist, signed up to volunteer at clinics through WAserv (Washington State Emergency Registry of Volunteers), and first worked at immunization clinics for children over the summer, then worked at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for people in phase 1a. He spent a lot of time as “IT support,” helping people with scheduling their second dose through their phones as they waited the mandatory 15 minutes after their shot. He also did a four-hour online training to learn the data entry system.
“Administering a vaccine, that is the least time-consuming, least labor intensive of the entire process,” said Roeben, who lives in Kirkland. “When I read the newspaper, when I watch press conferences, it seems as if the emphasis is on getting the vaccine to sites and putting needles in arms. There’s a whole part that people just aren’t seemingly paying attention to.”
Other providers have gone on hiring sprees to meet the need. Walgreens, which operates 135 drugstores in Washington, is part of a federal partnership with CVS to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities. The company has 30,000 employees across the U.S. and plans to hire an additional 15,000 over the next three months, according to spokesperson Jessica Masuga.
A Google search for “COVID-19 vaccine jobs” in Washington brings up a plethora of open positions for medical assistants and registered nurses, along with customer service consultants and data entry. Meanwhile, pharmacies are ramping up hiring to handle both vaccinations and to fill in other responsibilities like filling prescriptions, said Jenny Arnold, CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association.
“It’s twofold, pharmacies are staffing appropriately and thinking through workflows to balance getting out medications on a day-to-day basis,” Arnold said. “Without those, you’re going to have a whole different crisis.”
More than 100 people responded to a job opening posted by the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association, which is staffing two Snohomish County sites, one at Paine Field in Everett and one at Edmonds College. Nurses are “coming out of the woodwork left and right,” to help, said Jake Scherf, CEO of SVNA, which employs about 50 registered nurses. Each site needs five or six nurses at a time, and, as other health professionals have noted, requires more work than a traditional flu clinic.
“You are introducing a novel vaccine,” Scherf said. “There’s the 15 minute waiting period, and the educational process. People have a lot of questions for our nurses they might not have for their annual flu shot.”
At Public Health — Seattle & King County, officials are still figuring out staffing for the high-volume vaccination sites that it plans to open in South King County, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, next month, said spokeswoman Kate Cole.
At the four clinics for first responders, long-term care facility staff and residents and health care providers starting in late December, 100 Public Health staff worked at the sites alongside 231 volunteer vaccinators, traffic and flow monitors, screeners and post-vaccine monitors. Over 20 clinic days, more than 2,800 people received vaccines.
The National Guard will send 30-person teams to the four vaccination sites in Spokane, Kennewick, Wenatchee and the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield, along with a medic to work as the vaccinator at each site. A fifth team will go to independent-living facilities to assist with vaccination clinics there, spokeswoman Karina Shagren said.
Health system officials have said that staffing isn’t an issue as much as the vaccine supply, which is unpredictable from week to week. MultiCare Health System has about 700 volunteers deployed throughout the region, said June Altaras, a senior vice president, in a Washington State Hospital Association briefing Tuesday.
“It’s the supply issue that is holding us back,” said Mandee Olsen, chief quality officer of Kittitas Valley Health in Ellensburg said in the briefing, noting that volunteers have included Central Washington University students, paramedics and staff from the county’s fire districts.
But, she added, they were always happy to accept more volunteers.
Staff reporter Sandi Doughton contributed to this report.