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AU Health hopes new mass COVID vaccination clinic will encourage more supply



“It was great, no problem,” the 75-year-old Augustan said as he sat with his wife, Carolyn. “Better than I thought it was going to be.”

They were among the 825 scheduled to get vaccinated Wednesday on the first day of business for the massive clinic in the newly renovated former Stein Mart building off Washington Road. The clinic  was made possible through a partnership with Augusta National Golf Club, which loaned the building and provided a $1 million donation, along with a $1 million donation from the Community Foundation of the Central Savannah River Area.

Because it was the first day, AU Health was “starting small and will continue to scale” up in subsequent clinics, CEO Katrina Keefer said.

With 15 fixed vaccination stalls set up along one side, the site is capable of doing 300 vaccinations an hour, said Joshua Wyche, the director of pharmacy, ambulatory and oncology services for AU Health. With a large parking lot outside and employees helping to direct traffic around the site, it can operate for a long time to come, he said.

“This is meant to be a permanent location,” Wyche said, “This is meant to serve the Augusta community and the state of Georgia for an extended period of time.”

The 38,000-square-foot site has room to add probably 10 more vaccination stalls, which would boost capacity to 500 an hour, “if we were asked to do so,” he said.

A lot of planning went into making the site more welcoming and soothing, with soft jazz playing overhead and a TV (with more to come) set up to display an underwater scene as patients wait in the observation area for the required 15 minutes after vaccination to be monitored for adverse reactions, Wyche said.

The intent is to create “a very patient-friendly environment during a time that can be highly anxious for many people coming through to get their vaccinations for the first time,” he said.

The site will become “the hub” for the main vaccination efforts, and plans are to do 1,500 more there Saturday, Wyche said. Vaccinations will be limited to the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. so “we do not disrupt any more traffic than we are going to have on Washington Road,” particularly during peak hours, he said.

AU Health will continue to hold pop-up clinics in the community for those most at risk and for those who struggle with transportation or have other barriers that would hamper them from getting vaccinated, said Chief Medical Officer Phillip Coule.

“We still have a very aggressive outreach method,” Coule said.

While the Washington Road site will not take walk-ins, and you cannot enroll over the phone, AU Health is working on ways for those without internet or computer access to get signed up, he said.

Right now the main limitation is vaccine, Wyche said. AU Health ordered 5,000 doses for this week and got about 4,000 from the Georgia Department of Public Health, but 800 are second doses for those who have already gotten their first shot, he said. AU Health also received 900 doses from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and will hold a clinic this week at Aiken Technical College.

AU Health hopes its increased capacity will bring more confidence about its ability to deliver vaccine and potentially encourage an increase in its supply, Wyche said.

“Our philosophy is we want to be a standard bearer for the state of Georgia, and if the state of Georgia decides (AU Health) is the right partner to send vaccine, that we have the ability and the bandwidth to take that vaccine and get individuals vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible,” he said. “I think this site will be the extension to allow us to continue to grow as more vaccine becomes available.”

Hans and Claudia Eber of Evans had been trying to go through their doctor’s office to get the vaccine and were on a waiting list there when a friend helped them secure a slot Wednesday to finally get their first shots. They were impressed by the setup as they waited in the parking lot for their appointments.

“I think it’s neat, I really do,” said Claudia Eber, 76, wearing a bunny mask her grandson designed.

The Princes were pleased at the convenience the site offered after trying unsuccessfully for six weeks to get signed up through the health department.

“Quick and easy,” David Prince said.

They know their age puts them at higher risk and that is why it was important to get it, he said.

“We just have confidence that everything is going to be OK,” Prince said.