A Shot in the Arm

Mass vaccination clinic at Notre Dame boosts Indiana’s effort to combat the pandemic.

Author: Margaret Fosmoe ’85

Vaccine Clinic 1 Nearly 6,000 Indiana residents received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Photography by Matt Cashore ’94

A steady line of vehicles snaked through the Compton Family Ice Arena parking lot, the occupants steering toward white tents set up nearby.

For the vehicle occupants, it was a shot of hope after more than a year of caution and social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 2.7 million lives worldwide.

A state-organized public drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic happened March 26 and 27 at Notre Dame. All of the nearly 6,000 appointments were booked days in advance. About 300 people staffed the clinic, most of whom were members of the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana National Guard and the St. Joseph County Health Department.

For 12 hours each day, health care workers kept the flow of vehicles moving and the vaccines going into arms. After receiving the vaccines, those served were required to park for 15 minutes in case of any side effects. Then they were sent on their way.

The weather was overcast and chilly on Friday. “I was glad you could stay in your car,” said Jo Young, a Notre Dame administrative assistant for the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and the Department of Irish Language and Literature. She and her husband were vaccinated at the clinic. They entered the vaccine line at 8 a.m. for their 8:20 appointment, and were able to leave by 8:49 a.m.

Young was glad to be fully vaccinated. “It feels good. I didn’t get COVID, but I was very careful,” she said.

Vaccine Clinic 2
A steady stream of cars flowed through Compton Family Ice Arena lot Friday and Saturday.

“Everyone was super nice and it was well organized. We were in and out,” said Patty Thornton, a South Bend resident served at the clinic. She said she was relieved to be vaccinated, because she cares for her young granddaughter and worried about becoming ill.

Although based on campus, the clinic was aimed at the general public — not the University community. The event provided the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot. The clinic had the capacity to administer 5,760 doses of the vaccine.

As of March 28, more than 1 million of Indiana’s nearly 7 million residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID.

“It was so efficient. I was in and out of there in 20 minutes,” said Cheryl Schairer, a graduate program coordinator in Notre Dame’s College of Science. She was vaccinated on the second day of the clinic and said afterwards she felt a sense of relief. “But I’ll still be wearing my mask,” she said.

Notre Dame senior Patrick McCabe served as a volunteer Spanish-language interpreter on the clinic’s first day. Although only three individuals in one vehicle required an interpreter during his shift, McCabe said he’s glad he had the chance to help. Indiana requires that translation services be available at such events. “I’m really glad Indiana has that mandate, because accessibility is so important in this effort,” he said.

Mike Seamon ’92, ’94M.A., Notre Dame’s vice president for campus safety and university operations, said campus officials didn’t hesitate when asked to partner in the state’s mass vaccination event.

Vaccine Clinic 3
Officials urge caution as COVID-19 cases tick up again even as vaccinations proceed.

Notre Dame has been notified by the Indiana State Department of Health that the University will be permitted to set up a vaccination center on campus in mid-April to serve students and employees. The clinic will provide the Pfizer vaccine, with students able to receive both doses before spring semester ends. Details are still being worked out.

Although Indiana on March 31 is opening COVID vaccine registration to all those 16 years and older, college students are encouraged to sign up for the vaccine clinics that will occur on their campuses, said Dr. Mark Fox, deputy health officer for the St. Joseph County Health Department.

The University continues to operate an extensive COVID surveillance testing program. As of March 28, more than 1,240 cases have been diagnosed on campus this semester, mostly among undergraduates. Those who test positive are moved into isolation and contact tracing identifies close contacts, who then undergo diagnostic testing.

Although vaccine distribution is proceeding steadily, state and local health officials urged Indiana residents not to let down their guard. “Even if you are fully vaccinated, we are not out of the woods yet,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health.

“Here in St. Joseph County, we’ve seen an increase in cases over the last three weeks,” Fox said. The seven-day rolling average of cases has increased 35 percent over the past three weeks and hospitalizations have risen, although nowhere near as high as in late 2020.

“The vaccine clearly has been a tremendous help in reducing deaths and hospitalizations, but our trajectory is heading the wrong way,” Fox said. “The vaccine is our best path out of this pandemic.”

Margaret Fosmoe is an associate editor of this magazine.