Behind the scenes of Baton Rouge’s largest community vaccination site

Updated: Feb. 12, 2021 at 10:26 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Around 100 staff members from Our Lady of the Lake Health System make up what could be considered the cavalry in the fight against COVID-19. Medical personnel, clerical staff, and even volunteers run the Lake’s largest community vaccination site located on the campus of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The 10,000 square foot space is triple the size of the Lake’s first vaccine site on the hospital’s main campus. Dr. Jimmy Craven, President of Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group, says the Lake’s Health System is ready to give out as many shots as possible.

“If we were to get 25,000 in a week, we would deliver 25,000 vaccines in a week. We know that the state is doing everything it can to deliver vaccines each week and we’re trying to prepare ourselves in advance for the supply we hope to get,” said Craven.

The site runs a lot like an assembly line. Anyone who is eligible for a vaccine must first make an appointment online. When your appointment time arrives, you’re screened at the entrance and then led to a check in area. From there you head to one of 25 vaccine stations for your shot. After that’s done, staff will schedule your second dose and then you spend 15-30 minutes in an observation area to watch for any potential vaccine reaction.

“I think it is somewhat remarkable that just 12 months after the start of this we have a vaccine and we’re delivering it to the people we serve,” said Craven.

Eventually the Pennington site will be able to vaccinate up to 7,000 people each week. However, because vaccine supplies are limited, that number is currently closer to 1,500 people a week. Ensuring those precious doses aren’t wasted requires careful timing from the pharmacy staff on hand.

So far, the Pennington site has administered the Pfizer vaccine. It’s delivered each day to the vaccine site, and once out of cold storage the shelf life can be as long as six hours in its diluted form or as short as 60 minutes inside a syringe. That means the pharmacist must make sure vaccine preparations line up with the day’s demand which can change hour to hour. The shelf life and vaccination window changes for the Moderna vaccine.

While the shot is the star of the process, the logistics behind the operation are extensive. In fact, the Lake’s IT team started laying plans for field hospital sites a year ago when the pandemic was just starting. Those preparations allowed them to move quickly to set up vaccination sites.

”When the call came to open up the mass vaccine site, we were ready to go. We had equipment on hand. They had network here up, and we stood up ready to go in 48 hours,” explained Heather Spragis, the CIS Director for the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.

To get patients in and out quickly, everything is digital. Instead of filling out a long questionnaire on a clipboard nurses use a program called Rover. It collects the necessary information with just a few taps on a phone and automatically shares that information with the Louisiana Immunization Network or LINKS.

“This is the way that we’re going to get out of this pandemic,” said Craven.

The Lake has tried to cover every detail in the process. Golf carts help transport elderly patients from their car in the extensive Pennington parking lot to the front door of the site. Music plays in the rooms and big screens show vaccine facts and inspirational quotes. There’s even a selfie station at the end where patients can mark the occasion.

“A lot of our patients like to pose with their nurse because it’s just such a historic moment,” said OLOL Senior Director of Operations Laura Davis.

Davis says even with dozens of team members working, they still need help. The Lake is hiring medical and clerical positions. They also need volunteers to help at the site. Anyone 17 and up can volunteer through the Lake’s website.

OLOL has other vaccination sites including sites in North Baton Rouge and Ascension Parish. Eligible patients can schedule their appointment at the site of their choice.

You can visit to request a vaccine appointment at a location near you.

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