‘People want to live’: Huge turnout, long lines at Black Doctors Consortium’s 24-hour vaccine clinic

The “vax-a-thon” was Philly’s first 24-hour vaccine clinic and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium surpassed their vaccination goal before midnight.

Philadelphians wait in line outside the Liacouras Center at Temple University, where the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium was holding a 24-hour vaccination clinic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphians wait in line outside the Liacouras Center at Temple University, where the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium was holding a 24-hour vaccination clinic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Long lines of people wrapped around Temple University’s Liacouras Center during the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium’s (BDCC) first 24-hour vaccine clinic.

Prior to the clinic, Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the group, said that the goal was to vaccinate about 2,000 people — the group surpassed that number before midnight.

“I expected a lot — I don’t know that I expected this,” Stanford said.

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The clinic began at noon Friday and ended at noon Saturday. In total, the group administered about 4,000 doses of vaccine, according to a representative. The effort was designed to target people in phase 1B and seniors over the age of 75, all of whom had to come from a Philly ZIP code that the BDCC identified as having higher occurrences of the virus and death.

Stanford wanted the ZIP code requirement in place as a way to bring greater equity to a vaccine rollout that has disproportionately reached white Philadelphians.

Dr. Ala Stanford speaks with reporters at Temple University’s Liacouras Center during a 24-hour COVID-19 vaccine clinic organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Dress warm and be patient

On Thursday — in the middle of the snowstorm — the consortium vaccinated more than 700 people. Because of that high number, Stanford said she knew the weather wouldn’t keep people home.

People started showing up at the Liacouras Center around 9 a.m. Friday in anticipation of the 24-hour clinic. Despite the snow-covered ground, the line stretched and weaved for several blocks. Folding chairs were commonplace as many double-masked Philadelphians prepared for the long wait. Those attending were asked to “dress warm and be patient.”

Sindia Guerrero, 25, works with children and had tried to register with the BDCC before.

“I think it’s wonderful, but at the same time, it’s kind of like crazy — because of the lines. I waited for almost four hours,” Guerrero said.

The average wait time to get into the clinic for registration varied, but it usually took hours to get out of the cold. It wasn’t rare to hear of wait times longer than seven hours.

Edna Evans, 88, gets a COVID-19 vaccination at the Liacouras Center at a clinic organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Edna Evans, 88, waited outside for half an hour with her friend before they were called. She said she’s a fan of the 24-hour clinic idea.

“Well I think it’s nice, you know, for people that haven’t gotten the shot and just want to take a chance and come up to see if they can get it,” Evans said.

Her friend, Pamela Wingate, 66, has qualifying pre-existing conditions. Wingate had registered and signed up at numerous sites, but wasn’t able to get the vaccine until now. She thought that by coming later in the evening, a lot of the crowd would have dispersed.

“I thought that hopefully, it would be a lighter crowd around dinnertime. Pulling up, we saw that the line was completely around the corner,” Wingate said.

Dr. Christophe DeBrady of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium prepares doses of vaccine for the hundreds who turned out for a mass vaccine clinic at the Liacouras Center at Temple University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

With the elderly in mind, the consortium made adjustments to their logistics and brought them into the arena to ensure their wait outside was brief.

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“My biggest concerns were my senior citizens. And so once we were able to get them all inside that was a weight off my shoulder,” Stanford said.

Once inside, the process took between 30 minutes and an hour.

For some, the familiarity of the BDCC brought them comfort amid a heavily scrutinized vaccine rollout in Philadelphia.

Jennie Johnson, 73, survived breast cancer twice and has several pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t know too much about how Philadelphia has handled it, but I know how the Black Doctors have handled it. Phenomenal,” Johnson said.

Her husband, George Johnson, 74, was one of the few people there for a second dose and he said they waited outside for three hours. He wanted to express the importance of getting the vaccine.

George Johnson, 74, waits for a COVID-19 vaccination at the Liacouras Center at Temple University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We lost a lot of people in the city, families, and stuff, grandfathers, uncles…so it’s important that we get vaccinated because we don’t want to continue to do this,” he said. “We want to be able to get our children back to school and we want to go back to work,” he said.

For others waiting in line, this was their first time hearing about the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

Antonio Goode, 25, works in food service. He said that he found out about the clinic after a coworker sent him information about it.

Antonio Goode, an essential worker, waits for his COVID-19 vaccination at the Liacouras Center at Temple University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I was actually pretty lucky. I only waited about three-ish hours I want to say, but some people I’ve heard have been…since 9 a.m.,” said Goode at around 8 p.m. Friday.

‘I keep thinking it’s gonna slow down’

At around 6:30 p.m., Stanford told reporters that the total dose stockpile for the day was approximately 3,300 — and that 1,000 of those doses were already administered.

“I know they’re concerned, but we will have enough. We have someone going around with a clicker counting to make sure that no one is in line for a dose that’s not here,” Stanford said.

By 9 p.m., the BDCC had administered about 1,500 doses. With 15 hours to go, they were nearly halfway through their allotted doses.

Philadelphians wait in the lobby of the Liacouras Center at Temple University to recieve the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The 24-hour vaccination event was organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“At some point, I keep thinking it’s gonna slow down, but it has not,” Stanford said.

The consortium reached out to Mayor Jim Kenney to see if they could get any additional doses.  With extra supplies from the city, the 24-hour event provided over 4,000 shots.

Although a battle is brewing within the city regarding its own future vaccine plans, Stanford said that they have been a great partner in helping to manage the number of doses.

“The city has been very good. Every time they give us a first dose, they have guaranteed us a second dose. So unlike other places where they gave out all the doses ahead of time, the city of Philadelphia did not do this,” Stanford said.

The clinic largely went off without a hitch. There was a small fire nearby that caused some disruption outside but lines closest to the incident were shifted inside.

Everyone who received their first dose at the 24-hour clinic was scheduled for their second dose scheduled on-site. The second dose will be given on March 23 at Deliverance Evangelistic Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.

Stanford believes the willingness of so many people to stand in the cold on icy sidewalks for a chance to receive the vaccine speaks to both the lack of supply and the high demand.

“People want to live. They want to get back to a new normal. I think we all know by now, it’s not going to be the same as it was, but we want to get closer to that. I personally think it also shows the trust that people have in us coming out, and that feels good,” Stanford said.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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