Inside the Summit County vaccine clinic
Carpentry shop at Utah Film Studios now life-saving medical center
Giant garage doors rolled up last Friday to allow three cars into the Utah Film Studios, each parking beside a tent where volunteer medical providers stood ready to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.
A red-vested nurse or a blue-vested doctor spoke with the passenger in each vehicle who was eligible to receive a vaccine, checking for a history of allergic reactions, confirming paperwork and asking them to roll up a sleeve.
After a few minutes, the garage doors opened again and three different cars came in to take their place.
The county usually opens the vaccine clinic twice per week, and, as of Monday morning, has vaccinated 1,052 people, according to a county spokesperson.
The drive-thru site at Quinn’s Junction is a bustle of activity, with dozens of volunteers clad in different-colored vests minding their responsibilities, ranging from checking paperwork to preparing the vaccine to squeegeeing the snow that dropped from each car.
Patients must prove they’re arriving for an appointment and walk-ups are not allowed.
Chris Crowley, the Summit County official in charge of vaccine logistics, said the operation so far has been “fantastic,” saying workers have responded to minor challenges like snow storms but have thus far not encountered major setbacks.
“The only thing that’s holding us back is vaccine,” Crowley said.
He said the site has demonstrated the ability to vaccinate more than 250 people per day, and could theoretically deliver as many as 400 doses.
So far, the lack of vaccine has made that an untested hypothesis, to the disappointment of many residents who are eager to receive protection against the virus that has killed nearly half a million Americans.
The county is vaccinating those in the state-declared priority groups, including teachers, first responders and other medical personnel. The county anticipates vaccinating older residents starting next week and appointments are filling up weeks in advance.
Only those in the high-priority groups are eligible to be vaccinated, and county officials have said it will take several weeks to vaccinate everyone who is eligible.
Officials ask people not to show up to the clinic if they don’t have an appointment, something the county spokesperson said started happening with more frequency after Gov. Spencer Cox announced earlier this month that Utahns 70 and older would be eligible for vaccinations.
The county has been receiving about 400 doses per week, and there are more than 3,500 residents eligible to be vaccinated, officials have said.
The carpentry shop where film hands used to construct faux-Western ranch houses is home to a prep area where volunteers fill syringes and enter data into computers.
There’s a rest area with a table offering snacks, hand warmers and alcohol wipes, and a lost-and-found featuring two pairs of reading glasses and a glove.
It takes about 45 volunteers split between two shifts per day to run the clinic, said Shelley Worley, the county’s health promotion director who helps coordinate volunteers. She said the roster includes about 120 people but that the county could always use more help.
Midge Farkas, who retired after a 42-year career in nursing, took a break to drink some water while wearing the yellow vest that marked her as a volunteer.
She said she helped with intake, confirming that patients have an appointment and scanning the accompanying QR code.
She has also made calls to older county residents to help them navigate the online sign-up process.
She said people are thrilled to get the call and appreciate the help, and officials said they haven’t had much trouble with people skipping their appointments.
Farkas added that she advises vaccine recipients to wear a cardigan on the day of the appointment to allow for easy arm access.
Stephen Johnson and Diane Gilles are retired doctors who were volunteer site supervisors.
Johnson said he was glad to give back to the community, while Gilles could be seen knitting socks and mask-extension bands worn to help relieve the pressure of mask straps on people’s ears.
At one point, Johnson and others walked briskly toward the parking lot after a yellow-vested volunteer notified them that someone might need medical attention.
Officials direct vaccine recipients to wait 15 minutes before leaving the site, or longer if they’ve had a previous allergic reaction to a vaccine, Johnson said.
Volunteers circulate the waiting area, chatting with recipients still in their cars and making sure they aren’t suffering a reaction.
Johnson indicated that the situation hadn’t proven serious.
Judy Rogers, a retired nurse, wore a red vest and staffed one of the vaccine delivery tents along with Dr. Meta Hayley. Rogers said that the patients she’d spoken with had been happy to be at the clinic and grateful to be getting the shot.
She said she felt bad she couldn’t do more during the pandemic and that the volunteer opportunity gave her the chance to help.
“At least now I can contribute,” she said.
Suzie Dotan was wearing a green vest and was on hand to offer Spanish-language translation. She said her services hadn’t been used much yet, but that she’d brushed up on medical terms like “anaphylactic shock.”
For Dotan, every new car was a cause of excitement and a sign that things were getting better.
“This, to me, it’s like morning after a really long night,” she said.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.