#BearDownVaxUp: Robbins says the campus COVID-19 vaccination site is a 'first-class, professional operation'

#BearDownVaxUp: Robbins says the campus COVID-19 vaccination site is a 'first-class, professional operation'

By Andy OberUniversity Communications
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Signs mark the path for the drive-through vaccination clinic on the University of Arizona Mall. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
Signs mark the path for the drive-through vaccination clinic on the University of Arizona Mall. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
President Robert C. Robbins, M.D., gives a vaccination shot to Officer Jesus Aguilar. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
President Robert C. Robbins, M.D., gives a vaccination shot to Officer Jesus Aguilar. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
A volunteer speaks with someone checking in for a vaccination appointment. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
A volunteer speaks with someone checking in for a vaccination appointment. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
Brooke Buttacavoli, community director for the Coronado dorm
Brooke Buttacavoli, community director for the Coronado dorm
An overhead view of the drive-through vaccination clinic. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
An overhead view of the drive-through vaccination clinic. (Photo by Chris Richards/University of Arizona)
Joaquin Ruiz, vice president of global environmental futures
Joaquin Ruiz, vice president of global environmental futures
Hank Stratton, assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television
Hank Stratton, assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television

On a cool, sunny Friday morning, Jesus Aguilar, an officer with the University of Arizona Police Department, became one of the very first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the distribution site on campus. He also had the distinction of having it administered by a well-known medical professional at the University – President Robert C. Robbins.

"I thought he might be a little bit out of practice," Aguilar joked. "I know he's usually used to working with hearts, so I don't think an arm was a huge challenge. His bedside manner was amazing."

Aguilar was one of 450 University faculty and staff members to receive vaccinations during the small pilot run on Jan. 15 at Campus Health. Many of those who received the vaccine are frontline workers, including faculty, graduate students and instructors teaching in-person classes, University of Arizona Police Department officers, custodial and maintenance staff, food service workers and Housing and Residential Life staff.

"It is a first-class, professional operation," Robbins, a cardiothoracic surgeon, said. "I am really appreciative that everybody is working so hard throughout this pandemic, and not just with the vaccination."

The Pima County Health Department designated the University as a vaccination point of distribution, beginning with Phase 1B of the county's distribution plan. That includes people 75 and older, K-12 and higher education providers, child care providers and those working in protective service occupations, including law enforcement, corrections, firefighters and others working in emergency response.

Aguilar, speaking as a police officer, said, "it's important for us to be an example for the community and add legitimacy to this and show that it needs to be done to protect our community," Aguilar said.

Robbins, who also received his first dose of the vaccine, says the vaccine rollout is "light at the end of the tunnel," and is encouraging the community as a whole to "Bear Down and Vax Up."

Brooke Buttacavoli, community director for the Coronado dorm, also received her vaccination during the test run.

"My building has over 500 residents in it, so I want to make sure I'm safe working on the front lines with the students living on campus," Buttacavoli said. "The process was so simple. Everyone was so nice and it was an easy flow. I was shocked at how quick It was."

The University distribution site consists of a drive-through clinic on the Mall and a walk-up clinic in the Ina E. Gittings Building designed to be accessible for those lacking transportation or needing special accommodations. The distribution sites are staffed largely by volunteers, including health sciences students. White tents stand out against the grass, marking the drive-through path that allows people to check in and receive their shots without leaving their cars. Once they get the vaccine, they drive to the observation area, where stripes of white paint outline spaces for cars to park in while the passengers wait a while to make sure they don't have an adverse reaction.

Robbins says he hopes 60,000 vaccinations are administered at the site by April 1.

Eligibility is determined by Pima County, based on an algorithm designed to ensure the vaccine is allocated equitably. Appointment availability depends in part on the number of doses the county receives. (Read this UANews article about the University's ultracold storage facility, which is capable of storing more than 1.6 million doses of the vaccine.)

Among those eligible to register for a vaccination appointment are University faculty, staff, campus affiliates and associates, graduate assistants and associates, and student workers. To register, visit the Pima County Health Department website.

University leaders encourage those who are eligible to get vaccinated to register and make an appointment to do so when they can.

Joaquin Ruiz, vice president of global environmental futures and director of Biosphere 2, says there are multiple reasons to get vaccinated.

"One is for the personal security of not getting sick," said Ruiz, who received the vaccine during the pilot run. "But also, we need to have the whole population vaccinated so we get what's called herd immunity, and that means the virus has nowhere to go. We can control it that way. So, it's really important that the population as a whole gets vaccinated."

After receiving the vaccine, Hank Stratton, an assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television who is teaching in-person classes, echoed Ruiz's sentiment.

If he could, he said, "I would stand on the roof of Bear Down Gym and scream, 'Bear Down, Vax Up!'"


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