COVID-19 vaccination begins at Michigan Stadium

Thursday, December 31, 2020 - 6:35pm

Michigan Stadium officially opened its doors Thursday as a site for vaccine administration through Michigan Medicine, first welcoming a team of health care professionals and frontline workers to receive the shot. 

David Miller, a urologist at Michigan Medicine, is helping lead the development of Michigan Stadium into a vaccination clinic. He will be the president of Michigan Medicine beginning Jan. 1.  

Miller said having the opportunity to create safe and effective infrastructure to administer the vaccine is a great source of optimism and uplifting way to go into the new year.

“It’s an incredibly exciting and rewarding (day as) I reflect on the last nine to 10 months and on the incredible courage, commitment, resilience and teamwork demonstrated by my colleagues at Michigan Medicine,” Miller said. 

Public health officials have repeatedly endorsed the safety of the vaccine, and Michigan Medicine has encouraged all staff and students to sign up through the Blue Queue survey to receive it. Michigan Medicine plans to finish vaccinating the first round, consisting mostly of health care workers, by Jan. 11 and they are preparing to begin vaccinating the Ann Arbor community. 

Miller said a total of about 2,000 vaccines will be administered at Michigan Stadium each day starting Thursday, in addition to those being administered at the hospital. He said Michigan Medicine chose to use the stadium due to its size and accessibility. 

“The stadium made a lot of sense in terms of the space, it also offers easy parking for many members of our team in our community who aren't routinely at the hospital,” Miller said. “That scalability was important and having enough space to ensure appropriate public health measures, easy access (and) the ability to scale over time as we increase the number of vaccinations being administered every day.” 

LSA junior and Patient Services assistant Kristie Wilcox, who is a patient services assistant at Michigan Medicine, received her vaccine at Michigan Stadium on Thursday. Wicox said it was her first time being in the stadium as a student at the University of Michigan.

“To be at The Big House, I think it is very symbolic of just what U of M represents,” Wilcox said. “This is a place of teamwork and camaraderie and how everyone from U of M just comes together, this is just another example of that we come together as a community for a good cause.” 

Miller said the planning of the site took weeks, but Michigan Medicine feels confident in the safe and thorough facility they have created. 

“From ensuring the right staffing for the vaccinations, to making this space accessible for team members arriving, to having the right supply chain (and) all the materials that you need to administer the vaccine, this hasn’t been done in this space before,” Miller said. “But we’ve brought together expertise from across the campus, and in many different new partnerships to be able to do it.”

At this time, Michigan Medicine is only receiving the Pfizer vaccine and not the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has more complex storage and transportation considerations than its counterpart, requiring storage temperatures between -112 to -76°F. Because of Michigan Medicine’s ability to correctly store the Pfizer vaccine in these extremely low temperatures, they have not yet received vaccine shipments from Moderna, which is first given to places that cannot meet the Pfizer storage requirement. Miller said they hope to receive those soon. 

Every day at 6:30 a.m., security brings a blue cube-shaped cooler from the hospital to Michigan Stadium with enough vaccines for the day, Edwards said. The Blue Cube has the technology to regulate the low temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine, and it is equipped with an alarm that notifies staff if the temperature gets too high, Michigan Medicine nurse Kristin Edwards said. 

Edwards is one of the nurses who helps oversee vaccine administration at Michigan Stadium, making sure all vaccines are accounted for and monitoring those who have just received the vaccine. She recently received her vaccine and said it was an easy process.  

“I was so happy to get the vaccine, it really was no problem,” Edwards said. “It was better than expected, it was better than the flu shot. I didn’t feel a thing.” 

Part of the need for a large space such as Michigan Stadium is because Michigan Medicine encourages those who have just received their vaccine to stay in the facility an additional 15 to 30 minutes to be monitored for symptoms the vaccine may produce. The most common side effect they have seen is a sore arm, according to Miller. 

“We asked our team members to stay for 15 to 30 minutes to make sure they don’t develop any significant side effects issues like swelling or rash or shortness of breath,” Miller said. “And so this is part of our overall safety mechanism. So all the seats here are individuals who have received a vaccine who are now being observed for safety.” 

Edwards said there are health care professionals at Michigan Stadium present for those who could have more severe side effects and allergic reactions — which she said is unlikely — or for people who get scared during vaccinations. 

Miller said he thinks the most important thing someone who is concerned about the safety of the vaccine can do is ask questions. 

“Part of the overall vaccination process is providing free, detailed information about the scientific evidence to support the vaccine, about potential side effects of the vaccine, and then moving forward sharing some of that longer-term information from the clinical trials because there will be longer-term follow up to look for any new side effects and longer-term effectiveness,” Miller said. 

During the first day of vaccinations, people of all ages waited to get their vaccine. They all made appointments through Michigan Medicine or the University. The order of vaccination priority is based on a self-reported survey known as the Blue Queue, which was sent out to all students, faculty, staff and health care workers who either work for or attend the University. 

Miller said the self-reported survey works to identify people with high exposure risks to COVID-19 and those with underlying conditions and to ensure they are vaccinated first. 

“(The survey responses) were used to create prioritization and identify the first phase, being frontline health care workers,” Miller said. “Then transitioning, ultimately, phase two, which is community members, and many colleagues who don’t work directly in health care or don’t have specific risk factors.” 

Michigan Medicine is following a two-phase vaccination distribution process. Phase 1A consists of health care workers along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Phase 1B includes other essential workers such as police, food service workers and educators, and Phase 1C addresses adults over 65 as well as those with high-risk medical conditions. Phase 2 covers large scale distribution to all adults.

The University anticipates completing the first portion of the phase — Tier 1A — in the next three weeks. Miller said when members of the community should expect to receive their vaccine depends on multiple factors. 

“One (factor) will be the availability of additional doses from the states that partnership with the state and understanding when we will receive the next allocation,” Miller said. “And then second, is looking across the state at when other communities are proceeding through that phase (and) whether all communities in the state have been able to vaccinate individuals falling within the (first group).”

Pharmacy student Alexandra Rola said she thinks all University staff and students should fill out the Blue Queue quickly and honestly and have patience with the vaccination process.

“There are a lot of us,” Rola said. “Make sure you fill out your Blue Queue early and be honest about your answers. You will get your turn when it’s your time if you choose to get the vaccine, and I would definitely encourage you to do so.” 

Rola received her first dose of the vaccine on Dec. 31 and reported no symptoms, saying the vaccine hurt less than a flu shot. She will return in approximately 21 days to get their second dose, something that is required for the Pfizer vaccine to be effective. 

As some students return to Ann Arbor, Miller encourages everyone to continue following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended guidelines, regardless of whether they have received the vaccine. 

“As we continue to work together to move through the pandemic and as the vaccination process unfolds, let’s continue together to focus on a lot of these key public health measures of wearing masks, ensuring social distancing, hand hygiene and trying to limit indoor gatherings based on guidelines from the state,” Miller said “Together, we’ll create a safe environment to limit the impact of the of the of the COVID-19 pandemic as we achieve vaccination to to a larger scale, so we appreciate the partnership.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at sstockin@umich.edu


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