Michele Martin was looking everywhere for a coronavirus vaccine.
She has late-stage chronic kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, putting her at risk for serious symptoms if she catches COVID-19.
“My sister was going to drive me all the way up out of Philadelphia,” Martin, of Fishtown, said. “I logged onto all these different sites. We were going to make a fake address upstate.”
She finally secured her appointment Thursday and was vaccinated along with about 400 other people at the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School in Harrowgate, one of three city-run mass clinics that opened this week.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is on track to open a mega-site — with a goal of inoculating 6,000 people a day — next week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, speaking at the opening of the Community Academy clinic Thursday, said the smaller neighborhood sites will compliment FEMA’s operations.
Health department staff will return to the school on Thursdays every week or two, and second doses will begin being distributed there in March.
Similar set-ups have been established at the Martin Luther King Jr. Older Adult Center in North Philadelphia and the University of the Sciences in West Philadelphia, the latter of which will launch its clinic Saturday.
People are invited after registering for the city’s vaccine interest form at www.phila.gov/vaccineinterest. Walk-ups are not accepted.
The neighborhood sites will be particularly important in reaching Black and Latino residents, Mayor Jim Kenney said.
“They die at higher rates, they’re more infected at higher rates,” he told reporters Thursday. “We have to get into these communities to get people vaccinated.”
Inside Community Academy’s gym, nurses manning 12 vaccination stations asked those with appointments to roll up their sleeves. In a now-familiar scene, people who had just been vaccinated waited in a bank of spaced-out chairs for observation.
Leonardo Garcia, who lives in Oxford Circle, said family members helped him set up his appointment, and it wasn’t too difficult.
He saw others getting the vaccine and wanted to protect himself because he is a diabetic and has had open-heart surgery.
“The arm’s a little sore but that will go away,” Garcia said after the shot.
In Philadelphia, 190,588 people have received at least one dose, according to health department data, and about 94,000 are fully vaccinated.
“Until now, I would say, we have not vaccinated enough people to change the course of the epidemic, but soon we will be,” Farley said Thursday.
City leaders are hoping that the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as early as Friday, will accelerate the roll-out.
“The impact of the one-shot availability with the Johnson & Johnson (vaccine) is going to just double our pace,” Kenney said. “You get it once, and you’re done. That’s really a big game changer.”
FDA officials said earlier this week that J&J’s one-dose product appeared safe and effective during trials, and the Biden administration is preparing to send out nearly 4 million doses next week if it is authorized.
The vaccine was 66% effective at preventing moderate-to-severe COVID-19 cases in a worldwide trial. Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, manufacturers of the currently approved vaccines, each registered at around 95%.
However, the company reports that there were no virus-related deaths among those who received the injection and no hospitalizations after 28 days, according to Reuters.
“I would be more than happy to get that vaccine when it becomes available,” Farley said. “So I would recommend to people, get whatever vaccine is the first one available to them.”