AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Vehicles line up so people can get their COVID-19 vaccination cards after being vaccinated in a pre-registered drive-thru in the parking lot of the State Farm Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Arizona’s health services director said operation of the State Farm Stadium vaccine site would not be possible without help from the federal government.

Of the more than 920,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Arizona has administered since December, 18% have been administered at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, the state’s first 24/7 vaccination site which opened on Jan. 11.

Arizona was one of the first states to utilize its NFL stadium to run vaccinations. There are currently only six other NFL teams using their stadiums for vaccination sites, according to NPR.

On Monday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris conducted a virtual tour of the State Farm Stadium site with Arizona’s health services director Dr. Cara Christ.

Biden said he had received a call Sunday from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell offering up the league’s 30 major stadiums to be used as possible mass vaccination sites.

“I think they’re going to be coming to you to look at how you did it because you’re doing such a great job,” Biden said during the tour.

Running Vaccinations at State Farm Stadium

Arizona was one of the first states to reach out for federal assistance for the  vaccine rollout, according to White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.

During her virtual tour with the president, Christ said State Farm had the infrastructure in place to become a vaccination site after running COVID-19 diagnostic testing at the stadium. 

Additionally, the Glendale stadium was located near major Valley freeways and was a well-known landmark for most people in the city to access.

“With the NFL season being over, it was the perfect partnership,” she said.

On Jan. 21, the day after Biden was sworn in, the federal government deployed 25 members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide logistical, traffic and administrative support to keep State Farm operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Zients said.

The federal government is also funding the Arizona National Guard to provide assistance at State Farm Stadium at no  cost to the state, in addition to deploying 100 vaccinators from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assist with the state’s vaccine rollout.

“This stadium is a model for other communities across the country on how they can operate in partnership with the federal government to vaccinate more people,” Zients said.

Replicating the Success of the State Farm Site

On Monday, Biden questioned whether states would be able to operate a site similar to State Farm Stadium without the help of the federal government. At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, Biden said many states suggested they would be fine distributing the vaccine without federal assistance.

Christ said operation of the State Farm Stadium would have been difficult without the funding from the federal government and partnerships with departments like FEMA and HHS.

“It’s a huge lift to put something like this together,” Christ said.

Since it opened, State Farm has administered almost 170,000 doses of the vaccine, averaging 8,000 vaccines a day, or 350-450 an hour, according to Christ.

But the stadium could vaccinate up to 12,000 people a day at full capacity, and the state has recently asked the federal government for a significant increase in its weekly vaccine allocation. 

Before taking office, Biden promised to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. Biden said Monday that upon taking office, his administration underestimated the vaccine supply that was available, but that it was on track to exceed that number.

“I just want to thank you for your dedication,” Biden said. “You’re saving peoples lives both short-term and long-term. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Have questions about the vaccine rollout? Reach the reporter at lorraine@couriernewsroom.com or 480-243-4086.

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