Some US states open mass Covid-19 vaccination sites amid Omicron surge

Large vaccination sites could help alleviate the burden on pharmacies and smaller clinics. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Mass-vaccination sites are returning as several US states have started or will soon start pop-up clinics amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, coronavirus cases have soared over the past month in the United States, averaging about 650,000 new known cases a day, according to a New York Times database, far more than last winter's peak.

Although Omicron appears to cause less severe illness, many local healthcare systems have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.

About 63 per cent of the country has been fully vaccinated, according to federal data. Concerns over the variant have prompted many vaccinated people to seek out booster shots but do not appear to be persuading large numbers of the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves, some recent survey data have suggested.

Mass-vaccination sites played a vital role in the initial months of the vaccine rollout, but many had shut down by the summer as the effort became more targeted to reach unvaccinated people.

Large vaccination sites could help alleviate the burden on pharmacies and smaller clinics, health experts say, as surges in patient demand collide with staffing shortages brought on by coronavirus infections.

"It's really got to be community by community, state by state, thinking through where the demand is and matching the gaps in delivery," said Dr Eric Goralnick, a medical director at Brigham and Women's Hospital who had served as the medical director for mass-vaccination sites in Massachusetts.

"For example, all of our hospitals in Massachusetts are overcapacity every day, and many places are strained. So it's quite challenging for health care systems to not only care for patients but also build a capacity to provide vaccines for the community."

Massachusetts recently announced that it would open several mass-vaccination sites, including reopening Fenway Park, the home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

Illinois plans to start four mass-vaccination clinics to meet the growing demand for booster shots, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Friday (Jan 7). The state is more than doubling personnel at regional vaccination sites.

The mass-vaccination clinics are "another step forward for safe schools, safe businesses and safe communities for all," Mr Pritzker said in a statement.

Oregon expects to have 10 mass-vaccination clinics running soon, with the largest administering up to 3,000 shots a day, Dr Dean Sidelinger, the health officer and public health researcher for the state, told The Wall Street Journal.

Dr Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, said the jump in booster shots reflected the reality that many people who had received two doses of vaccine were still suffering breakthrough infections.

"One shift you're seeing now," he said, "is that people are finally understanding that full vaccination really does mean three doses."

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