On Dec. 15, 2020, emergency managers from around Ingham County met to discuss a seemingly daunting task: how to get COVID-19 vaccinations to the largest number of people in the most efficient way possible. The emergency team included Michigan State University Police and Public Safety, which had an existing plan on paper, borne out of years of expertise in emergency management. That plan served as the blueprint for setting up the operation with scalable modifications and the inclusion of non-MSU organizations.
Six days later, the first dose was administered at what would become the largest drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the state.
From Dec. 21, 2020 to June 8, 2021, the Ingham County Health Department administered 89,403 COVID-19 vaccines in the main exhibition area of the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, the large agricultural convention center south of MSU’s main campus and an ideal location for an operation of this scale.
“As soon as the Ingham County Health Department gave us the green light, I reached out to other university units to start coordination,” says Lt. Dave Oslund, MSU emergency management coordinator. “The response was immediate. Everyone was on board. We all just got to work.
“At first, I was amazed how quickly and seamlessly it all came together. Then I realized, there was never a question of if we could make this happen. This is what Spartans do. We work together for something greater than ourselves.”
days in operation
Multiple MSU units, including Environmental Health and Safety, Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, and Land Management, set up logistics at the site and continued supporting the operation for 98 days. This allowed the ICHD to focus on registration and the vaccination process.
“I can’t think of any other organization in the region that would have the space and capacity to support this vaccination clinic. MSU and ICHD came together almost seamlessly as willing partners. Our combined know-how and ingenuity allowed us to quickly establish a mass vaccination effort of unparalleled scope and efficiency, all while maintaining the highest level of safety and care for our patients,” says Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. “MSU is a great asset to this area, and I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together.”
At peak capacity, the Pavilion had seven lanes of vehicles in the main exhibition area for occupants to receive a vaccination drive-thru style, without leaving their vehicles; each lane could hold 10 to 12 cars depending on size. The parking lots outside had five lanes of cars waiting to enter, as well as a single lane snaked around building with cars waiting to line up. During the six months of operation, more than 73,000 vehicles came through.
A community effort
“To me, the vaccination operation at the Pavilion stands apart from all others because of the community involvement and support,” says MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “It wasn’t just the health department or MSU, multiple organizations stepped forward to provide vaccinators, volunteers and staff. We cannot thank everyone enough.”
cars visited drive-thru clinic
In addition to the ICHD and MSU, operational staff such as vaccinators and safety officials came from Lansing Urgent Care, East Lansing Fire Department, McLaren Health and the Michigan National Guard. Other organizations, including the city of Lansing, Ingham County Sheriff’s Department, Jackson National and SET SEG, coordinated with the ICHD to provide dedicated volunteers for roles such as traffic controllers and patient observers.
“To operate at full capacity, we needed 50 people per shift in various roles and most of those did not require a medical license,” Vail says. “We put the call out for volunteers and the response was overwhelming. Employers in this area really recognized the magnitude of what we were trying to accomplish and how important it was to the safety of our community.”
MSU employee volunteers
In early March, MSU set up a process for university employees to volunteer at the Pavilion. More than 800 employees gave more than 16,000 hours of their own time toward the effort.
“On the first day, among the volunteers, there was a palpable feeling of energy and enthusiasm to get started,” says Sue Petrisin, senior director of administration in the MSU Alumni Office, who volunteered for more than 100 hours and arranged for Sparty to visit occasionally. “As the cars came through, I could see the hope on people’s faces after receiving their vaccine mixed with a sense of relief. I felt like I was doing a small part in the big picture of keeping our community safe.”
hours volunteered by MSU employees
“The success of this vaccine clinic is completely due to the community effort,” says MSU Police Sgt. Steve Beard, who ran the day-to-day, on-site operation. “On any given day there were 40 to 50 people, some as part of their jobs, some volunteering their time, all coming together to make the operation work.”
“We live in a community that cares,” Oslund adds.
Adding a second operation
In early April 2021, individuals 16 years of age and older became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, the ICHD notified MSU it could provide doses specifically for the student population.
“Ingham County Health really went above and beyond to get us doses for students and MSU affiliates,” Oslund says. “In the early stages it was unclear how much support we would receive from the state. Recognizing the need to reach this age group and the short window of time we had before the end of the semester, the county pulled out all the stops. The student vaccination clinic would not have happened without that partnership.”
As the vaccine operations continued in the main exhibition area on the south end of the Pavilion, MSU implemented a plan for a walk-up vaccination clinic in the north end, including the lobby and auditorium. Initially set up for students, it was later opened to the larger MSU community.
“It was a total university effort,” Beard says. “The people from Purchasing were collaborating with IPF and Land Management to get the necessary supplies and space set up. One of our senior vice presidents called me and said he had all the staffing lined up for two weeks and just like that it was done. Really extraordinary effort from everyone involved.”
In 18 days, the additional clinic at the north end of the Pavilion administered 7,179 COVID-19 vaccine doses. Nearly 4,000 hours on site were put in by employees from MSU Health Care, Auxiliary Enterprises, IPF, Land Management, MSU Police, Purchasing, Olin Health Center, Residential and Hospitality Services and Student Affairs.
“Every student I spoke with had a profound sense of thanks and relief at becoming part of the solution by protecting themselves and their community,” says Philip E. Strong, interim dean of students and assistant provost for Academic Standards and Student Conduct, who spent nearly three weeks helping at the clinic. “It was an inspiring period of time where we as the MSU community came together to support the immediate health and wellness needs of our students.”
Following the close of the Pavilion operation, MSU students, employees, retirees and patients still in need of a COVID-19 vaccination may register for an appointment through the MSU Health Care Pharmacy. Sign-up information for other providers around the state is available on the Together We Will website.