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LA Opens Dodger Stadium To Help Vaccinate Half A Million Health Workers

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Staff seperate vehicles as they enter the lines for vaccinations at Dodger Stadium. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Starting Friday, Dodger Stadium is a mass vaccination site. It's part of an effort to get some 500,000 health care workers immunized by the end of the month.

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Switching Dodger Stadium from testing to vaccinating is part of an effort to speed up California's painfully slow vaccine rollout. The state received the most doses of any in the country, but has only administered about one-quarter of its supply.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell, who handles public safety for Mayor Eric Garcetti, hopes the Dodger Stadium site will help change that. He said 200 staff will vaccinate 12,000 people a day.

The site will operate Mondays through Saturdays from 8 am to 8 pm. "We've begun to develop some plans to possibly go to 24 hours a day if we have both the team members to staff it as well as the vaccinations coming in," Gorell said.

Only health workers will be inoculated at Dodger Stadium in the near future. It joins other super vaccination sites like Disneyland in Orange County where Californians used to go for entertainment -- and now go for treatment.

I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT AT DODGER STADIUM - HOW DOES IT WORK?

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If you received one of the one million or so COVID-19 tests at Dodger Stadium, you'll know traffic was an issue. Gorell says officials have set up a "sea of cones," more than 20,000 bright orange traffic cones strategically laid out so cars will snake their way in from the stadium entrance near the Los Angeles Police Academy to keep traffic off neighborhood streets.

"They'll be screened, and identification will be checked to make sure they have an appointment and they are a health worker," he said.

Patients will then be directed to one of three areas within the parking lot, each with refrigeration units, clinicians and support staff.

People will get the Moderna vaccine, free of charge.

"But we have the capacity for the Pfizer vaccine," Gorell said. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at much colder temperatures than Moderna's.

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Cars will pull through in groups of 10, and health workers will use carts to move between vehicles, conducting pre-screening interviews and then administering the vaccine through car windows.

People will then wait in their cars for 15 minutes in case they have a reaction to the vaccine.

If you don't feel well during that time, "honk your horn, do whatever you need to do to get a medical worker's attention," Gorell said. "They'll be right there to help."

Patients will get a card bearing the date they were vaccinated and the brand name of the vaccine they were given. They'll need to make follow-up appointments to get the second dose a few weeks later, but it doesn't need to be at the same site, Gorell said.

WHY DODGER STADIUM ISN'T ENOUGH

Another five mass vaccination sites are slated to open on Tuesday around L.A. County. Large sites like these are a good start, but the county has 10 million people, roughly the same population as the entire state of Georgia. Public health officials need to think bigger, said Karin Michels, chair of epidemiology at UCLA.

"We need probably 10 times or maybe 20 times Dodger Stadium," she said. "Convention centers need to be transformed into vaccine sites. We need to be much more ambitious."

Currently there are 75 vaccination sites in L.A., but even with those in place, health officials estimate it will be summer before they start vaccinating healthy adults. It's urgently important to speed up the process because of the new, more contagious variant, said Michels.

"We are running out of time, we need to get as many people vaccinated as we can because this new mutant is so infectious that it could really make the situation that is already very bad even worse," she said.

California's current COVID-19 surge is hammering L.A.'s hospitals. Intensive care unit beds have been full for weeks. Administrators are teetering on implementing battlefield-style triage medicine, where care is prioritized for those more likely to survive. And on top of that, about 15,000 Angelenos are testing positive every day for the virus.

Michaels says the only way to end the crisis is to vaccinate as many people as possible, and for everyone to keep wearing masks and physically distancing -- even for a short while after getting the second shot, Michels said.

Vaccine supply has become a major issue. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that the county isn't ready to open up vaccinations to people 65 and over because "we don't have enough vaccine."

The effort's near-term future became even more cloudy Friday, when the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has already exhausted its reserve of vaccine doses, even though Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the government would begin releasing doses it had been holding in reserve for second shots.