Dennis West didn’t feel the needle going into his upper arm, quickly learning that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine was an easy — and painless — process.
West was one of about 1,000 Clark County officials who were inoculated last week at the Cashman Center with their initial vaccine dose. Although a limited number of doses landed in Las Vegas a month ago for front-line health care professionals and nursing homes residents, last week marked the start of the broader second wave of inoculations with clinic “megasites’’ like Cashman.
Public safety workers and people over age 70 have first crack, along with other critical infrastructure and industry workers.
West, a supervisor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Vegas-based urban search-and-rescue team, was dually qualified to be at the forefront of the second wave of recipients, as a 73-year-old member of the public safety corps.
“The more folks that do it, the more will feel free to do it,” he said. “They’ll come around.”
Ray Anderson, a longtime maintenance mechanic for the Clark County Water Reclamation District, received a shot in a chair 6 feet to West’s right. Anderson, who is 64 and has a heart condition, wants to get the economy back to normal. He’s hoping this is the start of a better year.
The downtown Cashman Center is one of the key locations in the valley for mass COVID-19 testing. It also served as an isolation and quarantine facility for homeless people exposed to COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. A purposefully well-spaced vaccine line reached nearly to the parking lot off Maryland Parkway, but the scene was orderly as the snap of isopropyl alcohol scented the air.
“I’m happy to see that Cashman can once again play a key role in helping our residents,” said Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear, whose district includes Cashman. “We’ve all been waiting for this. It is a long time coming.”
Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the site processed 300 people in less than four hours to start the day, and she expected 1,000 by day’s end. At full capacity, Cashman should see up to 4,000 recipients per day, health officials predict. Along with the Las Vegas Convention Center, another megasite expected to come online within a week or two, and other public clinics, the Health District anticipates distributing as many as 40,000 to 45,000 shots per week as the campaign ramps up.
Want to get one of them? Here are some pointers:
Before your appointment
• Get in your lane. The county is accepting more residents through the state’s bifurcated “lane” system. Workers in certain essential industries, ranked by priority starting with public safety workers, occupy one lane, while the general public, starting with seniors age 70 and up, populates the other.
• Book a spot online. For seniors and those in the priority worker groups, go to the Southern Nevada Health District’s online portal at http://covid.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/vaccine/distribution/ to make your appointment. This portal will put you in the queue at the health district headquarters or with a partner agency, which includes UNLV and other local universities and Henderson and North Las Vegas. Private pharmacies, such as Walgreens, are slated to start offering vaccines on Wednesday.
If you’re not in one of the identified industries, and are 64 or younger without underlying health conditions, you can preregister online.
• Keep your appointment. This helps with planning. Because the vaccines have sensitive storage and handling needs, and are released in limited batches, authorities want to ensure none go to waste once vials are taken out of the freezers and punctured.
Appointments are also important for crowd management.
“If you take the time to make an appointment please show up, because we’re relying on you to be there,” Kirkpatrick said. “There’s a reason why we’re limiting them, because we know how many clients that we’ve got to see in that timeframe to make sure that we do not waste any vaccines.”
At your appointment
• Bring the following: Government-issued photo identification; proof of current employment in a priority industry, such as an employee badge or pay stub; and an insurance card if you have one. Though there is no out-of-pocket cost and the health district is not currently collecting insurance information, it may in the future, said JoAnn Rupiper, the health district’s director of clinical services.
• Here are the steps you’ll go through once you get to the head of the line:
You’ll be given a brief questionnaire that gathers demographic information and asks, among other things, if you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to anything or previously had COVID-19.
You will then be seated. Once your row of seats fills up, a team of vaccinators will roll over a cart with the vials and syringes.
Roll up your sleeve and receive the shot. It’s as quick as a flu shot.
Remain seated for 15 minutes for observation.
After that, you’re good to leave.
• You will receive a CDC-issued card as proof that you have received your first dose. Do not lose this card. It contains the pertinent details of your vaccine, plus serves as a reminder for your second dose.
• All vaccine recipients must leave their vehicles. There are no drive-thru clinics at this time. The health district is working on accommodations for people with disabilities, including mobility and cognitive issues.
After your appointment
• Be aware that you may feel some mild side effects, including muscle soreness, tiredness, low fever, chills and headache. These are indications that your body is building up protection against COVID-19. They should pass in a few days.
• Return for your second dose even if you experience side effects, unless your doctor or vaccinator tells you not to. Current vaccines need two doses to be fully effective. The second shot should come three to four weeks after the first, depending on the manufacturer.
• Consider signing up for free text messaging reminders. The CDC-endorsed VaxText sends out weekly text reminders for your second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and a reminder if you are overdue. Text ENROLL to 1-833-VaxText (829-8398) to opt in.
You can also register with v-safe, the CDC’s combination health checker and reminder tool. The voluntary program sends daily and then weekly texts asking how you’re feeling. This allows the CDC to gather data on side effects. Register online at vsafe.cdc.gov or by scanning the code on the flyer provided with your vaccine.
• Continue to wear a mask in public and keep up the physical distancing and hand-washing.
“It’s important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions,” the CDC says.
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