U.S. Convention Centers Transform Into Mega Vaccination Sites

January 25, 2021

As the pandemic continues to keep many event facilities closed or under-utilized, convention centers across the U.S. are finding new life and purpose by transforming their empty exhibit halls into mass state-run COVID-19 vaccinations sites. Here are several major facilities that are providing this valuable community service, helping to save lives and return the country — including the meetings and convention industry — to pre-pandemic times as quickly as possible.

Last spring, the Jacob K. Javits Center was converted into a temporary field hospital as coronavirus cases overwhelmed New York City. Now, its massive expo halls are being used for a more uplifting purpose. On Jan. 13, the Manhattan-based facility officially became New York’s largest vaccine center and one of the first state-run sites to open its doors. 

Eligible New Yorkers have already started receiving their first COVID-19 shots, which are by appointment only. Following their first dose, citizens are able to schedule their second dose in-person. 

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, limited federal vaccine supply has resulted in the state only receiving approximately 300,000 doses per week from the government.

“Our singular focus is getting shots into arms and with the opening of these state-run sites we are doing just that,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We are making the vaccine available based on federal guidance and are continuing to push it out the door quickly and efficiently, but due to the federal government’s limited allocation, appointments are filling up fast.”

He continued, “At the end of the day, this is a supply issue and we need the federal government to provide us with more vaccine as quickly as possible because there is simply not enough and this is the weapon that will win the war.”

Javits’ vaccination site is open from 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily, with health officials hoping to expand those hours pending more resources. More state-run sites are either in the process of opening or planning to open soon.

Soon after the coronavirus hit the U.S. in March of last year, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, shuttered its event business. But that didn’t stop the LEED Platinum facility from opening its doors to shelter homeless community members to protect them from contracting COVID-19. Ten months later, the facility has taken another altruistic step by transforming itself into a vaccination super site, which opened on Jan. 20.

According to local health authorities, plans are to vaccinate up to 7,500 people per day, depending on the amount of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech products supplied by the federal government. Shots are free and each vaccinated person will then be scheduled for their second dose.

The OCC is just one of several Metro visitor venues, including the Portland Expo Center, that will serve as COVID-19 vaccination sites, powered by four major health care providers, including Kaiser Permanente. Throughout 2020, these venues also assisted with wildfire evacuee sheltering and drive-through COVID-19 testing, according to OCC officials. 

“Metro has been working hard to use our facilities for the public good since their closure due to COVID-19,” said Lynn Peterson, council president of Metro, the regional government of the greater Portland area. “Offering vaccinations at Metro facilities is another way we are here for the community.”

On Jan. 19, the Wisconsin Center became the primary COVID-19 vaccination site for the city of Milwaukee. The city’s frontline healthcare workers and other emergency responders are currently receiving vaccinations, after which the Milwaukee Health Department plans to start vaccinating police officers and fire personnel, followed by other essential workers, such as teachers. 

The downtown convention center will continue to serve as a primary COVID-19 vaccination site and is contracted by the city through at least May 1 of this year for this initiative, according to Wisconsin Center officials.

“The City of Milwaukee recognized not only our above-and-beyond COVID-19 readiness, but also our value as a versatile venue and collective of experienced event staff,” said Marty Brooks, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Center District, which funds, builds and operates the convention center as well as the Miller High Life Theater and the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.  

He added, “The work we do and have done for more than two decades makes us an ideal venue and partner to coordinate and manage the facilitation of such a large-scale initiative.”

Early on in the pandemic, the WCD enhanced safety practices at its three facilities, instituting COVID-19 readiness guidelines for staff and visitors, and achieved GBAC STAR accreditation in October 2020.

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando is continuing its mission to positively impact its community by serving as Orange County’s host site for senior COVID-19 vaccine distribution and testing.

Through a collaborative partnership with Mayor Jerry L. Demings and the Florida Department of Health, almost 300,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered at the OCCC’s remote parking location since March of last year, while more than 23,000 vaccines have been distributed to local senior residents since December 27. 

In past years, the OCCC has also served residents as the state’s designated staging area for hundreds of public safety and emergency responder vehicles and aircraft from across the nation during a weather emergency. The OCCC also houses first responders and their equipment to assist with hurricane recovery efforts.

The Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey has become one of six mega vaccination hubs as part of a critical network of more than 200 sites tasked with carrying out the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Opened on Jan. 22, the facility is currently vaccinating front-line healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters, people over 65 and individuals with chronic health conditions. 

From there, the ACCC and other sites will continue offering the vaccine in a phased approach depending on the state’s vaccine supply, according to state health officials. 

The goal is to vaccinate up to 2,400 people per day through the mega sites. 

Last spring, the ACCC also served as a temporary hospital for local residents battling COVID-19.

We are honored that the State has chosen our convention center as one of New Jersey’s mega vaccination sites,” said Meet AC President and CEO Larry Sieg. “The opportunity to be part of a vast administration of the vaccine will certainly be a catalyst in the restart and recovery of the meetings and convention industry.”

  

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