Stadiums and Ballparks Batting Cleanup as COVID-19 Vaccination Sites
16 Jan, 2021By: Michael Popke
As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths surged in January, the urgency to distribute vaccines prompted health officials in several states to designate stadiums as mass vaccination sites.
On Jan. 12, Massachusetts finalized plans to use Gillette Stadium in Foxborough — home of the National Football League’s New England Patriots and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution — to administer thousands of vaccines per day.
CIC Health, a Cambridge-based health tech company, will manage vaccine administration. Initially, doses will be reserved for first responders and healthcare workers and, later, for other priority populations per the state’s phased timeline.
“Mass vaccination sites will play a critical role in distributing COVID vaccines as safely and quickly as possible,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement issued by stadium officials, noting that the number of daily vaccinations eventually will ramp up to 5,000.
Gillette Stadium is the first sports and entertainment venue in the northeast to open for mass vaccinations and is one of at least three NFL stadiums in the country to do so. The others are State Farm Stadiumin Glendale, Ariz. (Arizona Cardinals) and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Miami Dolphins).
Major League Baseball ballparks are getting involved, too. Nearly 4,000 people were vaccinated on a recent Saturday at Minute Maid Park in Houston, home of the Astros, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that Citi Field, home of the Mets, will provide vaccines to between 5,000 and 7,000 people per day.
In Los Angeles — where the surge has become particularly deadly — officials say they hope to vaccinate as many as 12,000 people per day at Dodger Stadium when the recently mobilized site becomes fully operational. Like other sports venues, Dodger Stadium served as a massive COVID-19 testing site before transitioning into a vaccination distribution center.
“From early on in this pandemic, Dodger Stadium has been home base for our testing infrastructure, a vital part of our effort to track the spread of COVID-19, try to get ahead of outbreaks and save lives,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.”
About 30 miles south of Dodger Stadium, another vaccination distribution site was imminent at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.
Similar vaccination operations are setting up overseas. TheStadiumBusiness.com reported that London’s Selhurst Park, home of the Premier League’s Crystal Palace F.C., has been designated as a vaccination center and will be one of the city’s largest vaccination sites, officials said. During the pandemic’s early months, the facility served as a place to prepare meals for frontline workers and vulnerable residents.
The effort to distribute vaccines at major sports venues makes sense, as operators are accustomed to accommodating large groups of people and represent a sense of belonging. “A sports arena has a sort of community feeling” Paul Gronke, a professor of political science at Reed College in Portland, Ore., told USA Today. ”There’s the fan base, and the sense that it’s a gathering place.”
“We even welcome Yankees fans,” de Blasio joked about opening Citi Field. “There is no discrimination.” (Shortly afterwards, and most likely by sheer coincidence, Yankee Stadium was announced as another vaccination site for the city.)
Vaccination sites have been established at stadiums “so that we can quickly ramp up the number of folks who have safe access to a vaccine in a big way as the federal government moves to ramp up their distribution plans,” Baker told reporters in Massachusetts. “These sites will be available to first responders, as they open, and other eligible individuals later as we move through our vaccine distribution program.”
He added that “[t]hese vaccines are safe and effective . . . This is a huge step forward in our fight, and we are progressing in our vaccination plan as we hoped we would.”
As officials bolster vaccine distribution efforts at sports venues, convention centers are being called into action, too.
In New Jersey, the Atlantic City Convention Center is expected open later this month as a “mega” vaccination center after serving as a field hospital last year to accommodate overflow of COVID-19 patients.
The Austin Convention Center in Texas, meanwhile, was set up last summer as an alternate care facility but went unused until recently. “Unfortunately, we’re going to need it,” Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told local reporters in mid-January. “Our hope is that we will not need to utilize it to any significant level, but it is an option for us and it will create an opportunity to help decompress the hospitals, particularly as the cases and hospitalizations continue to surge.”