On the first day Maryland offered walk-up COVID-19 vaccines at the M&T Bank Stadium mass clinic in Baltimore, people began lining up at 6:30 a.m. — three and a half hours early.
The site still offers pre-scheduled appointments, and most people getting vaccinated there Friday had one in advance. The 200 doses set aside for walk-ups between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. represented a fraction of the record 6,032 doses that eventually would be administered Friday at the suite-level clinic.
“We’ll run out of vaccine before we run out of time,” said Lt. Col. Charles Wetzelberger, deputy site coordinator of the clinic with the Maryland Air National Guard, gesturing to the walk-up line.
Sure enough, the final walk-up vaccine of the day was administered around 1 p.m., said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for the University of Maryland Medical System, which runs the site.
The long-sought milestone of a walk-up option illustrated the high demand for the lifesaving shots without having to navigate an online preregistration or wait on hold for an appointment by phone. As coronavirus case counts returned to January levels this week, Maryland opened eligibility at its mass vaccination sites to anyone older than 16.
Freddy Benavides said he and his wife, who is a teacher, had both encountered challenges signing up for appointments. The 39-year-old construction worker, who lives in Bethesda, called the walk-up doses at the stadium “a blessing.”
“It’s great,” he said. “It really is difficult to get an appointment.”
Michele Hospedales, 53, who runs an independent assisted living home in Hamilton, stood in the walk-up line, which moved slower than the queue for those with appointments. Hospedales didn’t know whether she would get a shot, or how long the wait might take if she did.
“I’m willing to wait it out,” she said.
Waiting in line without getting a vaccine is one of the risks of vying for a walk-up dose, said Dr. Jason Marx, incident commander for the M&T Bank Stadium project. Officials recommend that people schedule appointments, if they’re able, to ensure a dose is waiting for them when they arrive.
“You’re never guaranteed to get a vaccine if you do the walk-up route, just because we have to have some capacity limit on the walk-up appointments,” Marx said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, people are getting here really early for the walk-up appointments and so you may have to wait, and you may wait and you may not get a slot. We’ll try to be as transparent as we can with the appointments.”
The walk-up appointments are “very popular,” and could grow to 500 a day next week, said Marx, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.
“Please be patient, some days are busier than others,” he said. “But overall, stay positive, remember why you’re here, to get the vaccine, and we’re all trying to do the best we can.”
Delnora Seay has diabetes and high blood pressure, and her daughter’s whole family was stricken with COVID-19 in the past two weeks, she said.
The 60-year-old Northeast Baltimore woman thought she’d scheduled a 9:15 a.m. first-shot appointment for herself at the Ravens stadium. She waited in that line for 35 minutes — only to be told she didn’t have the required verification email.
It meant Seay had to move over into the adjacent walk-up line and wait again. She’d already waited for months to schedule an appointment.
“[Walk-up appointments] should’ve been offered way before,” she said. “People with underlying conditions really need to get it. It infuriates me we had to wait this long.”
After another 45 minutes spent in the walk-up line, Seay got her first dose.
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“I had to get it done, so it was well-spent,” she said. “I feel great. It went great.”
Frank Kress posed for a photo in front of the Ray Lewis statue with his vaccine card and his muscles flexed after getting his second dose at the stadium Friday.
Kress, a 57-year-old roofer, had laid in a hospital bed in a COVID-19 ward at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for five days around Thanksgiving. He’d dwelled on the painful prospects of not being able to walk his daughter down the aisle, hold his children’s hands or just go outside and hear the birds.
After receiving a clean bill of health, he said, he has walked 5 miles a day and lost almost 50 pounds.