New banners hang over RavensWalk and on the side of M&T Bank Stadium. A check-in tent has replaced the metal detectors. And when you take the escalator or elevator up to the club level, pharmacists, not bartenders, staff the bar in the middle.
The Ravens stadium, Maryland’s third state-run mass COVID-19 vaccination site, opened Thursday, offering just 250 doses by appointment at 74 club-level vaccination stations. The site has 500 doses a day scheduled for this weekend, could begin offering as many as 2,000 a day next week, and has the capacity to give 10,000 per day as Maryland’s vaccine supply from the federal government increases.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who toured the stadium clinic Thursday, said he hopes the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be approved Friday, expanding vaccine availability nationwide. The Republican governor did not specify how much of Maryland’s share would go to the stadium, or whether any would be reserved for city residents, as Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott has requested.
”We should start seeing those doses arrive in our state next week, which is tremendously exciting,” Hogan said. “It’s going to add to the arsenal to go after this virus. We are going to be figuring out exactly how many we are getting, and then determine with our team where those additional doses are going to go. But they’re going to go in somebody’s arm as fast as we can get them in there.”
The 55,000-square-foot mass vaccination center isn’t on the football field, but it will bring people to an area of the stadium most don’t get to visit: the club level.
Mahua Deb said she was the first to get a vaccine at the stadium on the mass vaccination clinic’s first day. It was also her first visit to the football stadium.
Deb, 43, a Food and Drug Administration consumer safety officer who lives in Ellicott City, moved from Michigan last year.
“The pandemic started so we didn’t get to explore Maryland that much,” she said.
Deb described an organized identification check, vaccination and post-shot observation process. She showed up early and was finished more than a half-hour before her appointment.
”Everything was very, very organized,” Deb said. “I would encourage people to come. ... There’s a lot of hard workers there.”
The stadium site offers walk-up vaccine registrations, although not same-day shots, for people who don’t have computers or are otherwise having difficulty getting appointments. To request an appointment, call 855-MD-GoVAX (855-634-6829).
Hogan said the stadium, which has a light rail stop, will improve access for people who don’t have a car — part of the state’s efforts to make the rollout more equitable amid a significant race disparity in the state’s initial vaccinations. White Marylanders are receiving four times as many vaccines as Black residents, according to the latest data released by the state.
But the governor noted that it is the state’s second mass vaccination site in the city. The other two state-run sites are at the nearby Baltimore Convention Center downtown and Six Flags America in Prince George’s County.
”As of last week, Baltimore City had gotten far more than they were really entitled to,” Hogan said.
After parking in Lot C, people with appointments passed under the massive “VACCINATION SITE” banner at the RavensWalk and proceeded to the check-in tent just inside Gate A.
Don and Eileen Kunkoski, who live in Reisterstown, had been on four separate lists for other vaccination sites since mid-January without getting an appointment.
They managed to schedule appointments for Monday at the stadium after waiting two hours on the phone.
Don Kunkoski, 77, who is retired from the Environmental Protection Agency, came to check out the site’s accessibility in advance of the appointment for Eileen, 74, who he said doesn’t get around well.
He was impressed by the separate, accessible entrance and exit with an elevator at the Northwest Suite Entrance. Others took the escalator and the steps, entering at Gate A and exiting at the Northeast Suite Entrance.
”They’re ready to go,” Kunkoski said. “It looks very well organized.”
Banners between the Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis statues instructed people to notify staff of any symptoms in the past 48 hours, any exposure or concerns about exposure, and any pending COVID-19 tests.
Carol and Rob Vatalaro, both 72, who live in Columbia, thought the process required more identification checks than necessary, given that they already had appointments. They checked in online, then at the tent at Gate A, then a third time on the club level.
“Other than that, it was fine. They were very organized,” Carol Vatalaro said. “They had the stations set up all around this big bar. I said, ‘Well, where’s the beer and wine?’”
The University of Maryland Medical System, which is running the site for the state, has plenty of staff on hand, said Rob Vatalaro, a retired National Security Agency engineer.
“They’re just overrunning with people,” he said.
He wore a sailboat mask and an “I GOT VACCINATED” sticker on his coat. The Vatalaros got their appointments over the phone Monday, the first day they became available at the stadium. They’d tried unsuccessfully to get vaccines at several other clinics, he said.
“I waited for Monday morning, and I just got lucky,” he said. “I did it on the phone. The computers weren’t working.”
Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, said the stadium vaccination site represented the “latest example of partnership” between the state and the regional hospital system.
“This is a step in a big process to ensure we create solutions that allow for our communities to be vaccinated,” he said. “We are excited to get this launched.”
The site is aiming to schedule 2,000 appointments per day beginning next Thursday, said Lt. Col. Charles Wetzelberger, deputy site coordinator with the Maryland Air National Guard, who supervises the guardsmen who helped set it up.
You can’t see the field from where you sit for a shot, said Wetzelberger, who is a Ravens season ticket holder. But the clinic has a “cool vibe,” especially for people who haven’t seen the club level before, he said.
”It was a barren club section in a stadium that hasn’t been used in a year [except for] a smattering of fans,” Wetzelberger said. “We were able to transform this into a mass vax site.”
During his tour Thursday, Hogan said he thought the club-level clinic looked beautiful.
”It looks like you’re there to watch a Ravens game,” Hogan said. “I said I was a little disappointed you couldn’t get a hot dog and a beer, but they’re doing a great job of getting vaccines done.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this article.