Vaccine drive-thru hums along


January 8, 2021

Contributed photo

Cars and trucks driven by emergency responders lined up inside the Carlton County public works garage last Tuesday for a vaccine clinic. It took an average of a minute for each person to receive the vaccine. Photos by Steve VanKekerix and Tony Bastien

A drive-thru vaccine clinic organized by Carlton County last Tuesday is getting national attention for creating a vehicle - pun intended - for getting Covid-19 vaccines into arms quickly while still abiding by social distancing precautions. featured photos of the clinic and interviews with Carlton County Health and Human Services staff here in a story Dec. 30, "How Drive-Through Covid-19 Vaccine Clinics Could Help Inoculate the U.S."

Although the Dec. 29 clinic was the county's first Covid-19 vaccine effort, it wasn't the county's first drive-thru clinic. In September, the county held a free drive-thru flu vaccine clinic that resulted in more than 700 people getting shots. That equals the average number of people getting flu shots here over the entire flu season, said Ali Mueller, emergency preparedness coordinator for the county.

Public health nurse Jenny Barta (disease prevention and control immunization coordinator for the county) said HHS staff knew they wouldn't be able to provide flu vaccinations in their usual manner at the senior fair, local schools, etc. They came up with the idea of holding a drive-thru clinic after Barta read about a pediatric clinic giving well-child vaccines to children that way. They also figured a drive-thru style clinic would be a good trial run for distributing the Covid-19 vaccine.

It was. Things went well, Barta said, but they also learned some lessons they applied to the Covid-19 vaccine clinic last week.

"We utilized the (county) Transportation Department site as our drive-thru vaccine clinic for the flu shot, but quickly realized that weather conditions and logistics of moving vaccine carts around on uneven pavement led to some difficulties," Barta said. "So we changed (from) our plan to administer the vaccine outside, to doing the clinic inside the garage. This afforded us ample amounts of space to stay distanced, protected everyone from the elements and allowed for vehicles to drive through and participants to stay protected inside of their own car and not have to stand in long lines."

Moving inside the garage should also prevent the long lines of cars that spilled out onto Highway 61 during the flu clinic. That wasn't an issue last week because the county administered only 70 shots on Tuesday as they had a limited number of doses, and the clinic itself was limited to emergency responders.

Online responses were mostly positive, with people commenting on the "smooth operation" of the clinic. "Very well organized and easy to follow!" wrote one person.

The Covid response and vaccine clinic has been a countywide effort, with staff from many different departments working together.

Working with public health, Jared Hovi and Siona Roberts from the county's GIS (geographic information system) department created an all-digital platform for the vaccine clinics that both the public - for screening questions, consent forms, insurance and other personal information - and the staff could use, with staff members updating the "who" and "what" of vaccines during the clinic.

"We wanted to eliminate the need for physically handling pieces of paper (and pens) as much as possible," Hovi said. It was both a way to cut down on the spread of Covid and track vaccine distribution, registrations, etc. in real time. "We were also able to mark people off the digital list when they received their vaccine on-site, which helped us track flow of traffic and how long it took an individual to enter and exit the drive-through," Roberts added.

Clinic participants could fill out the forms from a home computer, tablet or cell phone in advance; but the forms are simple enough, and also easy to fill out on a cell phone while waiting in your vehicle in line, Hovi said.

Barta said it took just over a minute on average for each participant to receive their vaccine on Tuesday.

"With the consent and screening process completed ahead of the arrival, we essentially only had to verify that the information on their forms was correct, while the nurse prepared and administered the vaccine," she said. "Each person was instructed to then wait in our "rest and recovery" area, in the parking lot outside of the garage, where two nurses and a behavioral health worker were waiting to assist if someone had a reaction. Thankfully, no one did have a reaction!"

Barta stressed that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 will be one of the best ways to protect yourself and your community. She said the county is following state recommendations to distribute the vaccines as they come in. They are developing plans for frontline essential workers in Phase 1B and will reach out to businesses and residents when the time comes. In the meantime, everyone - even those who have been vaccinated - must still wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

"The more people who get vaccinated against Covid-19, the better it is for everyone," she said. More people vaccinated means that there will be less disease in our communities. By stopping the spread of Covid-19, we can keep businesses, schools, and other venues open. Stopping the spread of Covid-19 gets us closer to the end of the pandemic."

Hovi said he and Roberts appreciated being part of such a critical endeavor that has worked out so well. "We sincerely hope the approach the county took will inspire others as well."

As for getting some attention from the national media, that was the icing on the cake, Roberts said.

Contributed photo

Wrenshall fire chief Pete Leveau gets a Covid-19 shot during last week's drive-thru vaccine clinic.

"It's fantastic to see our small county get such recognition for the work that was done. This event was a collaborative effort run by our public health department which included other county departments: Emergency Management, Sheriff's Office, Land Department, Transportation, IT, Building Maintenance, everyone played a role. I think it really shows what you can pull off if people work together, no matter how small your organization is."


Want shots?

Visit the Carlton County Covid-19 HUB page at and take a short survey on your interest in receiving the Covid-19 vaccine to help the county better plan for future clinics.


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