With Covid-19 vaccine eligibility expanding as local supplies remain limited, Morgan Hill officials have turned to a national pharmacy chain to vaccinate thousands of educators, senior citizens, farmworkers and others who spend their days on the frontline of the pandemic.
Throughout March, the Morgan Hill Unified School District has partnered with Albertsons, the parent company of Safeway, to host a series of vaccination clinics at Sobrato High School. The site is currently in the middle of its third vaccination clinic, which has administered about 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine over 10 days of operation, according to MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando.
On March 31, the site began administering second doses for patients who received their first vaccination earlier this month.
Betando said the clinics are a key part of the school district’s efforts to bring students back to in-person learning by April 12. The timing and capacity of the clinics will allow every MHUSD educator to receive the Covid-19 vaccine—if they choose to—and be fully inoculated in time for the campus reopenings.
And the demand has been high. Sobrato High clinic organizers had to create a waitlist on site for those who couldn’t sign up for an appointment.
“Every clinic we’ve done here has filled up, 100 percent,” Betando said.
The City of Morgan Hill will also team up with Safeway pharmacy for a vaccine clinic at the Community and Cultural Center, April 5-8 and April 10. The site will host another clinic for patients to receive their second doses.
Safeway and other private sector pharmacy providers—including CVS, Walgreens and other chains—receive and administer Covid-19 vaccines through the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, allowing them to bypass the county allocation system and receive vaccination doses directly from suppliers.
Safeway’s website notes the company has partnered directly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer vaccines at locations throughout California.
But Morgan Hill has a key connection to Albertsons/Safeway that likely also played a role in securing the recent and upcoming clinics. Former City Council member and MHUSD Trustee Larry Carr works for the company’s public relations office.
Carr spoke at the March 30 online MHUSD board of education meeting to thank the school district for partnering with Safeway.
“This clinic is true community spirit,” Carr said. “With Steve Betando’s leadership, it has brought us back to (where) schools are the center of our community. We should be looking out for our schools.”
A big reason for the Sobrato clinics’ success is the prolific use of reliable volunteers, recruited by Betando and Mayor Pro Tem John McKay, who was instrumental in getting local Rotary Club members involved, Carr noted.
In fact, the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill’s board recently approved the Sobrato vaccine clinic as an “official club community project,” Rotarian Lisa Bjarke said.
Carr said Safeway wants to host even more vaccination clinics in Morgan Hill. Betando and city officials have said they welcome additional vaccination efforts in the community.
McKay posted on social media March 29 that Carr and Betando “worked together to get through the red tape that can crush good ideas.”
“The effort needed volunteers to help manage the vaccination clinic site so the call was made to get members of the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill engaged and participating in the volunteer effort,” McKay added. “The volunteer effort was so effective that these volunteers are now being sought out by the Albertson’s staff to continue helping at these clinics. The Rotarians responded by volunteering over and over again and bringing family and friends to help manage the vaccination site.”
Patients and organizers gave high praise for the Sobrato clinic this week. Morgan Hill resident Benjamin Beasley, 29, received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine March 30. After about a 30-minute wait in line—while volunteers with clipboards take down information and verify appointments—Beasley signed up for an appointment for his second dose in about three weeks.
Then he simply followed the line of patients and volunteers directing him through the school’s performing arts center and onto the stage where Safeway clinicians diluted and drew doses into syringes before passing them to the injection nurse. After receiving the shot in his left arm, Beasley sat in the gallery seats for a 15-minute observation period.
“It felt just like any other shot,” Beasley said. “The nurse was friendly. They did their due diligence.”
Safeway Pharmacy Manager Shoresh Sharafi is the supervising clinician at the Sobrato vaccination site. He said the local clinic has been “the most successful clinic we’ve had,” in terms of how efficiently the lines have moved and the dedication of the volunteers.
He owes much of that success to Betando’s “hands-on” participation in the clinic. The superintendent is often the first volunteer that a patient sees when they show up for their appointment at Sobrato, greeting patients in line and ready to start checking them in.
“This is going to be an experience that people remember for the rest of their lives,” Betando said. “I want that to be a positive, fulfilling experience—not something that’s hard to manage or takes too much time—especially for those people who are most anxious about this.”
For more information about the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, visit https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/retail-pharmacy-program/index.html.
To sign up for a Covid-19 vaccine appointment at the upcoming clinic at the CCC, visit mhealthsystem.com/SWYMorganHillCovid.