Shutting down Seattle’s mass-vaccination clinic at Lumen Field Event Center last month was a bittersweet moment for the employees and volunteers who worked there.
They were thrilled to have administered an astounding 102,000 shots in just three months, helping to drive the city’s vaccination rate to 70%. But they also were sad to part ways after bonding over work that saved lives, said Annalisa Giust, 57, who recorded data and distributed vaccination cards at the city-sponsored clinic, working alongside a nurse.
During a happy-hour meetup that last day, the White Center resident said, some of the crew realized, “We need to get together again.” So they did.
On Saturday, several dozen of the clinic workers met at Judkins Park in Seattle to catch up, joke around and barbecue. Some had trouble recognizing some friends without their masks on, they mentioned, laughing.
Kenneth-Kaniu Mwaura was on the grill, flipping burgers for his vaccination-site buddies with Bob Marley songs playing in the background.
The 45-year-old from Tacoma worked on patient check-ins and data entry at the clinic, putting his Swahili to use as a translator.
“It started slow, when everybody was wary about [getting vaccinated]. Then it was like a roller coaster, we were on a roll … Some days we had 10,000 patients coming in,” recalled Mwaura, who savored the diversity of the crowds the site served, including people “from all walks of life,” and the joy they expressed when they had received their shots.
The employees and volunteers wanted to “make sure that every patient was comfortable,” he said. “I made a lot of friends, working down there,” Mwaura added. “We became like one huge family. I loved it.”
The past year and a half has been hard on everyone, said Laura Crumly, a nurse from Ballard who worked in a COVID-19 intensive care unit before administering shots at the Lumen Field Event Center clinic.
The importance of the work hit her “one day when I was in the vaccine prep area,” thinking about what each shot could mean. “This little syringe means someone is going to have a grandma next year,” said Crumly, 36.
Relaxing with some pasta salad at a picnic table with other workers, April Hillery echoed that sense of purpose.
“We had some vaccinators who had lost relatives to COVID, and this was their way of fighting back,” said the 49-year-old from White Center, who worked as a manager at the site.
The pandemic isn’t over for the Swedish Health Services employee, who now is spending time with a mobile vaccination team, taking doses to homeless encampments and other public locations.
But Saturday’s barbecue was a chance to pause and celebrate how much progress has been made, so that people can be with each other again.
Looking around the park as the clinic workers chatted and enjoyed their burgers, Hillery said: “This is exactly what we were working for.”