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Racing To Vaccinate: Thousands Flock To Loudon Speedway For Weekend Clinic

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Dan Tuohy / NHPR
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Thousands of people drove through the New Hampshire Motor Speedway to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, March 6, 2021.

Thousands of Granite Staters flocked this weekend to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, a setting accustomed to lots of cars and eager crowds, for a different kind of gathering.

The speedway is the site of the state’s first “mass vaccination” clinic, lasting three days and wrapping up Monday. State health officials say they hoped to inoculate more than 11,000 residents with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccines by the end of the clinic. Doing so will require lots of space and plenty of room for cars: something that a racetrack has proven well suited to accommodate.

At the start of the clinic Saturday morning, cones and volunteers in bright neon vests directed traffic through the track entrance. As cars neared a large white tent where vaccines and medical staff awaited, they were organized into eight lanes, each with vaccine stations.

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Credit Dan Tuohy/NHPR
Vincenza Loud of Stratham was the first driver to pull into the vaccination site at the racetrack, Saturday, March 6, 2021.

As the first site of this size in New Hampshire, there were a few early kinks to work out at the beginning of the three-day shift. One sticking point: the computer system. Several staff had difficulty finding registered patients, while others reported lags, which for some meant resorting to old fashioned paper and pen.

But many people who got their vaccines said they were impressed with the organization of the event, and the overall experience.

Vera Stanwood of Hudson had her appointment scheduled Saturday for 8:40 a.m., and at around 10:30 a.m., she was waiting the mandatory 15 minutes after receiving the shot.

“I didn't really mind it at all,” she said. “It was smooth going.”

Stanwood, who is a school nurse, was pleased to have received the Johnson and Johnson shot because it is single dose.

“The ‘one and done!’ ” she said. “Much better than the ‘two and done.’ “

Around 300 people have been staffing the site each day, including volunteers from local hospitals, fire departments and organizations like New Hampshire Responds.

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Credit Dan Tuohy/NHPR
Hundreds of volunteers helped keep things moving at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. (photo, March 6, 2021)

While some volunteers have staffed other COVID vaccine clinics before, for others, like Michelle Morin of Manchester Fire Department, this was her first time. And volunteering was personal for her.

“I have had someone close to me that passed away with COVID: It was my dad,” Morin said on Saturday.  “And today, actually, was the anniversary that he got sick, and I thought, ‘an anniversary to look on the brighter side now.’ ”

As the first vaccines began to go into arms Saturday morning, the temperature remained in the teens. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine needs to be stored above freezing, so staff had to be careful not to let vials get too cold. Hand warmers proved helpful. Or, in a pinch, some volunteers held the vials inside their clothing to keep the vaccine at the right temperature.

Many individuals receiving their shots, like Peter Hamilton of Concord, said they were grateful for the effort of those volunteers throughout the day.

“I think the people here who are doing all the work, all the nurses and everything, they have been great,” he said. “I have no complaints at all. They're just wonderful people.”