“Better than perfect” was how my 87-year-old father described his experience getting his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning at a mass vaccination site at Shenandoah University’s James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center.
I drove him and my 83-year-old mother to the center, not quite sure what to expect. We couldn’t have been more pleased with what we encountered. There was traffic control, available parking, and a fleet of golf cart-type vehicles picking up people in the parking areas and ferrying them to the front door of the facility. Someone at the entrance even got my father a wheelchair so he could get through the process more easily.
There was plenty of social distancing, and everyone was wearing face coverings.
I waited in the car while my parents went inside. I feared I might be there for hours. About 20 or so minutes later, I saw my parents being brought back to the parking lot by one of the friendly golf cart drivers. They got off the golf cart raving about the friendliness and efficiency of their experience inside. They were told that in about 28 days they would an email notification about when to get their second vaccine dose. The whole process was so easy and pleasant we almost couldn’t believe it. What’s more, the vaccine is being administered free of charge.
Local resident Diane Ruckman, who left a voicemail in the newsroom, recounted a similar experience when she took her parents to get their shots. She called the service “absolutely wonderful. We had an appointment, walked in, everybody knew what they were doing, it was great...I’m very proud of the job they’re doing,” she said.
An email from Kenneth Fahnestock boasted: “Valley Health and staff at SU have done a fantastic job with this program. I have friends out of state that have told of long lines and confusion. You know about the confusion at the Boyce vaccination event. Not so at SU. They had pre-registration, appointments, traffic control, courtesy shuttles, amazing job!!”
Carolyn Williams offered this via email: “I registered online. Got there early. There was no problem parking, there are shuttles to take you down and back. They took me right away. Plenty of people to register you and plenty to give you the shots. Lots of chairs if there is any waiting. I’ll say job well done.”
Another caller mentioned he listened to live music from two young violinists while he waited the requisite period after receiving his shot. "Best customer service I've ever received, and I've been around 85 years," he said.
At a time when it doesn’t seem like much is going right, here is an example of something that is going right. The university, Valley Health and the local health department are to be commended for providing this life-saving community service and for the planning and organization that has gone into it.
This effort, which launched to the public on Wednesday, will continue for some time. As many as 1,500 people a day are to be vaccinated at the SU site. Vaccinations are by appointment only, which accounts for the lack of long lines. Right now, appointments must be made online at valleyhealthlink.com/c19vaccinations; scroll down to Winchester, VA — James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center. As of Thursday afternoon, all listed dates for appointments were marked “full,” but new dates will continue to be added, which Valley Health will announce on Facebook and Twitter, so keep checking. Valley Health is also working to establish a phone line so senior citizens without internet access can get registered for an appointment.
I helped my parents schedule their online appointments, so if you know older folks who aren’t tech savvy, offer to give them a hand. They will be appreciative.
The mass vaccination site at SU is currently prioritizing getting COVID vaccines to people age 75 and older, educators, emergency services/jail personnel, child care providers and homeless shelter workers. It is open to all Virginia residents. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., based on vaccine availability. Walk-ins are not accepted.
The James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center is located at 1188 Ralph Shockey Drive.
COVID vaccine PODs (points of distribution) are also being hosted by Valley Health and the local health district at Warren County Health Department Gymnasium, 465 W. 15th St., Front Royal; Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, North Lobby, 759 S. Main St., Woodstock, and Page Memorial Hospital, Main Lobby, 200 Memorial Drive, Luray. (Use the above website link to register.)
“We anticipate that additional supply of the vaccine will allow us to open up more appointments for Page Memorial Hospital and in Warren County for clinics next week,” Valley Health said on Thursday. “Those appointment links will be listed on our web page between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. [today].”
Another opportunity for those 75 and older (and their spouses who don’t meet the age requirement) to receive their first dose of vaccine will be held from 8 a.m. to noon today at Clarke County High School, 627 Mosby Blvd, Berryville. The no-cost vaccination clinic is being hosted by health department officials. Appointments are not being taken. Those in line by noon are expected to receive a vaccine.