Thousands will soon flock to M&T Bank Stadium, but not with the rowdy cheer familiar to Ravens football fans.
Part of the stadium’s club level has been transformed into a 55,000-square-foot mass vaccination center for COVID-19 immunizations, opening Thursday.
The site initially will offer some 250 to 500 vaccination appointments the first few days before scaling up to 2,000 or more daily.
The mass vaccination site will join two other state-run inoculation facilities — one at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, and another at the Baltimore Convention Center less than a mile away. It comes as the state lays the foundation for a flood of vaccines to become available and as the demand for immunization against the coronavirus surges.
Maryland officials have designated more than 2 million people as eligible for vaccination appointments, even as national vaccine supply remains limited. Lawmakers, county executives and elected officials in Maryland say the vaccine rollout has been marked by confusion and hard choices, contending that the state expanded its prioritization guidelines too quickly and jeopardized the vaccination of its most vulnerable residents.
But state health officials say the mass sites in Baltimore, located in close proximity to public transit lines and able to accommodate up to 10,000 appointments a day when they reach their peak, will help close the gaps in vaccination.
“The M&T Bank Stadium Mass Vaccination Site is another example of the power of collaboration,” Dennis R. Schrader, the acting state health secretary, said in a statement. “The partners involved with this project have combined their unique strengths, and the result is a site that will help tens of thousands of Marylanders to get vaccinated and on their way back to normal.”
The partners — University of Maryland Medical System, the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland National Guard, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Ravens — brought together a team of 60 logistics, information technology and facility operations experts to get the stadium prepared for the crowds in a crunched timeline of 18 days.
Dr. Jason Marx, incident commander for the M&T Bank Stadium project and a pulmonary and critical care specialist at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, said that, considering the weather, the partners opted to have an indoor clinic rather than a drive-thru like the one at Six Flags. Plenty of staffers will be ready to help people get in and out of the facility quickly and efficiently, he said.
The site includes more than 65 vaccine stations, plexiglass barriers, dozens of desktop computers, and wheelchairs and golf carts to help transport people with limited mobility. There will be signs in English and Spanish, tablets available for language interpretation services, devices for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, and a team of medical professionals at the ready.
Marx said the stadium partnership, which came together about three weeks ago, focused on providing an equitable site for all Marylanders to access.
“As we open the site up, and work through the operations and scheduling, we want to reach out to those who have difficulty getting the vaccine,” he said. “We want to partner with community activists and organizations, and the mayor, and make sure that those who, for whatever reason, can’t get an appointment, can get the vaccine.”
Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, who leads the state’s vaccine equity task force, said the stadium’s size and features will provide for a diversity of needs among state residents, many of whom cannot access appointments online or make the drive to the mass vaccination site in Prince George’s County.
“Do not assume every community is monolithic and a one size fits all approach will work,” Birckhead said about M&T Bank Stadium in a statement.
Combined, the team spent more than 6,000 hours on the effort, UMMS said in a Tuesday news release.
People interested in scheduling a time slot can fill out the online form available at covidvax.maryland.gov or call 855-MD-GOVAX (1-855-634-6829) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to request an appointment. Free parking is available in Lot B.