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Celebrations and hard work: The magic of drive-thru community vaccine events.

After the year we’ve all had, you might be looking for a reason to celebrate.

So, it’s no surprise the drive-thru community COVID-19 vaccine events in Pierce County feel less like a clinic and more like a party.

Last month, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, MultiCare Health System and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health began these events after Gov. Jay Inslee asked counties to focus on this approach, so we quickly pivoted our work.

The rollout was bumpy at first. We had challenges with our registration system that left many residents frustrated and contributed to longer waits at the first drive-thru clinic.

We learned quickly and improved our processes. Now, residents tell us time and again they’re pleased with the result.

We continue to make improvements to the registration process to balance customer experience with clinical information requirements. But wait times that were 3 or 4 hours at the first clinic are gone. We get feedback that people are in and out in 30-45 minutes.

Singing, dancing and vaccinations!

We know everyone who shows up is excited to finally get vaccinated and help Pierce County turn the corner on the pandemic. We see it on your face, and you tell us at the events and through social media.

If your turn hasn’t arrived yet, it will soon! When it does, you’ll find that after the year we’ve all lived through, community vaccine events have turned into celebrations. Thousands of people come together to protect themselves and the community. It’s become a shared celebration of community healing.

You might see someone from a local fire department playing the bagpipes. You might hear music from a DJ. You might see people jumping out of their car for a spontaneous dance of celebration.

You’ll find staff and volunteers are just as excited. Many have been working hard for more than a year to protect you from COVID-19. So don’t be surprised if you see them dancing and singing right along with you!

We and our partners invest a tremendous amount of work into each event. The 100 or so volunteers and workers and the thousands of people who drive through recognize each vaccination brings us closer to ending the pandemic and returning to normal.

Thank you for your feedback!

We want to share some of the wonderful messages we received from you:

  • “I took my 87-year-old mother to your drive-thru event. It was perfectly organized and executed! Every single person we encountered from the parking directors, to the form-givers and reviewers, to the shot-givers, to the police officers and paramedics were friendly, efficient and gracious.”
  • “I just want to tell you how impressed I am at how smoothly the process went. Everything about it was great!”
  • “I am aware you all risk your own safety to ensure ours. Your professionalism, organization and empathy were highly impressive. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
  • “Wow. Just wow.”

Many paths to vaccination.

Of course, drive-thru events aren’t the only way to receive a vaccine. Many people face barriers to vaccination, and we use different approaches to close those gaps, including small and medium community-led clinics, mobile clinic—and don’t forget your own doctor’s office and pharmacy! More pharmacies are getting vaccine. Check to see if one in your neighborhood can schedule an appointment for you.

Three weeks ago, Pierce County providers vaccinated about 1,100 people per day. Two weeks ago, that number jumped to 1,900. Last week, 3,407 people. Until supply exceeds demand, getting a vaccine will remain a challenge. We plan to support community vaccine events each week in the future to help meet the need.

We see many reasons for hope! About 60,641 Pierce County residents have received just their first vaccine dose, and another 23,963 have received two doses and are fully vaccinated. More vaccines will become available soon.

Be prepared.

When your day comes—and it will!—be prepared. If you go to a community vaccine event:

  • Expect a wait.
  • Show up no more than 10 minutes early. Otherwise, you will have to wait and will slow the process for everyone.
  • Wear short sleeves.
  • Know your medical history. If you have strong reactions to vaccines, bring someone who can drive you home.
  • You will likely have to repeat information at different checkpoints.
  • Familiarize yourself with the immunization process.

About two weeks after your first vaccination, you will receive directions about how to get your second dose. We’ll send an email from Public Health Tacoma-Pierce. You might experience flu-like symptoms for a day or longer after the second dose. This is natural, and proof your immune system is working.

When you come back for your second dose, be sure to bring the following:

  • Registration confirmation.
  • Vaccination card showing first dose.
  • COVID-19 Vaccine Follow-up Instructions form provided when you got your first dose.

The process will be very similar to the first vaccine.

Hang in there. Until your turn comes, keep doing the things to keep you and your family safe:

We’ll get through this together. Learn more at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.

Drive Thru vaccine clinic with Mount Rainier in background.