When people think of Fenway Park, certain things may come to mind: watching the game with friends and family, Fenway Franks, and Wally the Green Monster. Now, people are depending on the historic ballpark to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fenway Park has officially become a mass vaccination site, with a soft opening on Friday, January 29 and an official opening on February 1, where it began vaccinating individuals aged 75 and older per the state vaccination plan.
The vaccination site is run by Cambridge-based CIC Health in conjunction with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as the Boston Red Sox and contracted health care delivery coordinators such as Beth Israel Deaconness Medial Center, Cataldo Ambulance, DMSE sports, and PWN Health.
The vaccination site team said they wanted the process to be as smooth as possible for people, and have created an experience that aims to get people in and out within 45 minutes to an hour.
The team explained that first, people check in at one of the check-in stations, then they are brought over to the vaccination area where they spend about five minutes with the person administering the vaccine. Then, they move to the waiting area to monitor for any potential allergic reactions. After that, people are invited to take selfies and post them online spreading the word that they have been vaccinated. They even receive an “I Got Vaccinated at Fenway Park” button.
“We want to make sure people book their second appointment while they’re here,” said Rodrigo Martinez, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at CIC Health. He said that around 95 percent of people have their second appointment booked before leaving the site, “which is fantastic, because then we know exactly when they’re coming and who do we need to reach out to to remind them or help them set up their second appointment.”
During a tour given to reporters on the day of the soft opening, several people were receiving their first shots. One woman said she didn’t feel anything during hers, and seemed pleased to have received the vaccine.
“As we scale up, we need to know how much time each portion of the site would take,” Martinez said.
Preparing the Vaccine
Chris Kaufmann, Vaccine Specialist for the CIC team, said that this site is distributing the Pfizer vaccine, which “comes to the site in a temperature controlled, ultra low temperature box with dry ice on it. From here, we’re putting it in ultra low freezers.”
Kaufmann said the freezers are set at minus 80 degrees Celsius, which is about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The night before, the number of reservations is checked and the appropriate amount of vaccine is removed from the deep freezer and transferred to a pharmaceutical grade refrigerator to thaw. The morning of distribution, the vaccine is given to preparers to create syringes that will go into people’s arms.
At Fenway Park, the vaccine preparation happens at the bar area, which Kaufmann joked “sort of redefines getting a shot at the bar.”
Kaufmann explained that the vaccine is mixed with a sodium chloride solution and placed into government-provided syringes that enable six doses to be drawn out of each vial.
“MRNA is actually stored in liquid nanoparticles that help with the absorption of the vaccine into the cells,” he said.
Kaufmann also explained that the locked freezer is in its own room, adding that “Pfizer is very good at GPS enabled temperature monitors on the box.” He said he receives emails when “something happens or if the product is released.” He said it can then be checked in on an Excel spreadsheet.
“We want the public to feel the confidence that someone with Chris’ expertise really brings to bear,” said Rachel Wilson, Chief Operating Officer for CIC Health. “We know where every dose is at any point thanks to his leadership. He’s been truly exceptional.”
Fenway’s Role in Vaccinating Residents
Rachel Wilson told reporters last Friday, “We are absolutely thrilled to have our guests here. The state asked CIC Health to be the operator of the Fenway Park mass vaccination site and it has been a true privilege to be part of this journey.”
Beginning on February 1, 500 people had signed up to receive their vaccinations on that day, and the site will initially only be open Monday through Friday, but weekends will be added “very soon,” Wilson said. After beginning with 500 vaccinations per day, the the site will eventually provide 1,250 vaccinations per day. Eligible residents can schedule an appointment at cic-health.com/vaccines.
“We’re part of multiple mass vaccination sites,” she said. “We’re ready, willing, and able to serve as many people as we possibly can,” and hope to “scale up” as more and more vaccine becomes available.
Sarah McKenna, Senior Vice President of the Boston Red Sox, said that though she and the rest of the Red Sox team “want to see the ballpark full again,” they have “always understood our role in the community prior to that.”
Before becoming a mass vaccination site, Fenway Park was a voting location for many people during last year’s election.
“We had voting in this very location—where they’re getting their shots, that’s where they were casting their ballots in November,” McKenna said.
She continued, “No doubt, I mean Fenway has this amazing emotional impact on the region and the community as a whole but we think this is probably its greatest responsibility that it’s had certainly in a long, long, long long time and maybe in its history overall,” McKenna said.
When asked how the site will operate once baseball starts back up, McKenna responded by saying, “We’ll make it work. I mean, that’s what we do. . You know if we are here giving shots on April 1…and if we are playing baseball that day, I promise you that there are people here that will move and we will make that work.”
Many people, especially in the Black and Brown communities that have been hit hardest by the virus, have reservations about receiving the vaccine.
“We obviously believe that the message needs to get out there,” Rodrigo. “And there’s no more effective way to have a campaign than to have everybody that comes here tell their family, their neighborhood, their friends the importance of vaccination.”
He said that “this is an emotional moment. It’s not just an important medical and clinical moment and we recognize that and we’ve designed the experience with that in mind,” and the hope is that people will share their experience on social media and encourage others to get vaccinated when they are eligible to.
Wilson said that the site is designed to avoid having people wait in line outdoors in the cold.
“Even in inclement weather, we want to be available for people to get their vaccines,” she said, and booking for appointments is done a week in advance. “We always have appointments further than that week that will help accommodate people who may choose to cancel their appointment,” she said, which will help avoid “discontinuity in their pair process for the vaccine.”
CIC Health also operates the Gillette Stadium mass vaccination site, and Wilson said that after operating that site for a little while, “we have designed and redesigned our workflows many times.” She said that the team is working on figuring out the best number of check-in stations, staff on site, and number of vaccination stations needed per hour.
Eligible Residents Grateful to Receive the Vaccine
Lisa Ivey and Linda Edge are both personal care attendants who received their first doses at Fenway Park last Friday.
Ivey, a Fenway resident, said that she has been a home care worker since 2009. “I’m privileged to have the shot today,” she said. “I think it’s very imperative and important that on a federal and a state level that we are acknowledged, we are respected, and we are also protected because we provide care to those that are vulnerable.”
She said that she was hesitant to get the vaccine at first, but when she saw President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “be responsible and be leaders from the front, it made it comfortable for us to be leaders within our family.”
She said the process of getting her vaccination was “very easy,” and she only felt “a little pinch.”
Linda Edge, formerly of Boston but now a Quincy resident, said that her patient has illnesses that put him at increased risk for the coronavirus. “I felt it was important for me, at least, to get the vaccine so I can care for him better,” she said.
She said the “location is excellent,” and she also felt better knowing she is protecting her elderly mother as well. Both women have signed up for their second doses as well, which are administered 21 days after the initial dose for the Pfizer vaccine.
“I’m really ecstatic to have this opportunity to be here because there are a lot of people who got petrified,” Ivey said, “and as we stand up and show that this is really important so we can put this pandemic to rest, everyone needs to be accountable to getting the shot.”