UPDATE: event organizers announced Wednesday that walk-ins will be accepted at the event. Appointments are encouraged, and will expedite the process, but they are not necessary to receive a vaccine at the event. Read an update here.
The Missouri National Guard will play a major role in the COVID-19 vaccine "mega event" taking place Thursday and Friday, April 8-9 at Hammons Student Center on the MSU campus. Organizers hope to vaccinate 10,000 people over the two days, which would be the largest single-site event so far in the state.
Colonel Russell Kohl is a flight surgeon and medical liaison officer with the Missouri National Guard. KSMU's Jennifer Moore spoke with him ahead of this week's mass vaccination event in Springfield. The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity. You can listen to the interview by clicking the "Play" icon below:
- Colonel Kohl, as we approach this major vaccination event, what is the most important thing for Missourians to know about it?
I think the most important thing for folks to know is that this is a great opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID. You know, the event is using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. So this is a 'one and done' event. Our throughput times are generally less than an hour. So it's a great way to take an hour to change the future of your life.
2. Is the Johnson and Johnson vaccine administered at this event believed to be effective in helping to prevent new variants of the coronavirus?
Yeah, and I think that's a great point. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department just announced last week the identification of one of the B117 variant, the U.K. variant, which we know that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is effective for. We have not yet seen the South African variant in Missouri. But when we do see that variant, the folks who have been vaccinated, even though it's not as protective as we would like for it to be, we do know from the trials early on that it is still more effective than not being vaccinated, regardless of what that variant looks like. [Editor's note: The World Health Organization's vaccine advisors said last month that across the board, a single dose of the J&J vaccine has 66.9 percent efficacy against symptomatic infection; 76.7 percent efficacy against severe COVID-19 disease after 14 days; and 85.4 percent efficacy after day 28]
3. Is there any cost for the vaccine?
No. The event is absolutely free. The vaccines are purchased and supplied by the federal government, as are the supplies that we're using. So the only thing it will cost people is potentially an hour of their time to come out.
4. What do attendees need to bring with them?
We encourage everybody to go to the Vaccine Navigator website. That will let you fill out your paperwork in advance. It will give you a registration number which will really expedite your time on site. And then bring a photo ID, if at all possible.
5. The whole point of the event is to protect people by immunizing them – but how do you plan to keep everyone safe at the actual mass event, so they don’t get the virus there?
You know, with it being a 10,000 person event, the first step was to break it into two days. So with the 5,000 folks [per day], what we're able to do is make sure that folks are all wearing their masks. We do have social distancing laid out inside. We've learned from amusement parks and fast food restaurants and we've done over 200 of these now for the National Guard. And so the ability to learn from each one and make things a little bit better and a little bit more efficient is really helpful for us.
6. Tell us about the logistics of this mass event: where do you get 10,000 syringes--and who will be doing the jabbing?
Ten thousand, that's a lot of logistics to handle. That's actually why the governor called up the National Guard a few months ago to assist with these mass vaccination programs. You know, the the supplies are actually provided by the federal government. However, getting them to the location and then getting the vaccine reconstituted, getting the vaccine into the syringes, getting the paperwork done, the registrations, all those sorts of things, those are the sorts of tasks that we're doing as the Guard to help assist the local folks. And so it's your local health department, nursing students, your local health care community who are actually turning out and volunteering their time to make sure that folks get the vaccines.
7. You’re essentially helping 10,000 people get armored up against a predatory virus. Have you had a moment to push pause and reflect on how this might alter the trajectory of this historical pandemic?
I've been running really fast since about December as the vaccines first became available. So I've only had a little bit of time to kind of stop and think about it. In my 19 years in the military, I've served in Iraq and Afghanistan and helped with Hurricane Katrina, but one of the things that I've got to say about the National Guard to work with the COVID vaccine is: statistically, we know that for every thousand people we vaccinate, we're saving roughly two lives. And so if you look at it from that perspective, 10,000 people in Springfield, that is a worthwhile way to spend a couple of days.
Additional info: How to register and schedule an appointment
The COVID-19 vaccine mega event is April 8-9 at Hammons Student Center.The event and vaccine are free and open to Missouri residents ages 18 and up. People in Missouri’s vaccine eligibility phases 1A, 1B and 2 can schedule an appointment for either day. All other Missourians are eligible to be vaccinated beginning April 9 and should schedule an appointment on that day.
Setting an appointment day and time for this event is a two-step process:
- Complete the survey through the State of Missouri’s Vaccine Navigator website. https://covidvaccine.mo.gov/navigator/
- Check your email for a link to schedule an appointment.
For help with registering or scheduling an appointment, call the health department at 417-874-1211, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.
For more information, visit health.springfieldmo.gov/megaevent
Correction: an earlier version of this report misspelled the last name of Col. Russell Kohl. This story has been edited to reflect that change.