Hundreds line up for drive-through mass COVID vaccination site at Sierra Pacific

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Traffic was backed up in northeast Fresno, and hundreds of people waited on foot on Thursday for COVID vaccines at a couple of mass distribution sites, as Fresno County shifts its vaccination effort into a new gear.

"This means having some positivity in life, being able to look at the tunnel and saying there is light and it's coming closer," Sonia Niemotka, of Fresno.

The state moved up the timeline for seniors, and private healthcare providers are helping to speed up vaccine delivery.

The line of cars wrapped around northeast Fresno for more than two miles Thursday morning, blocking the right lane of traffic on Millbrook, Alluvial, Cedar, and Spruce..

"We've been just two minutes short of an hour," said Marilyn Buller, who still had another hour to wait as she and her husband slowly moved north on Millbrook towards Alluvial.

Hundreds of people joined the Bullers to push ahead slowly for at least two hours to get drive-through COVID vaccines at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics, ready for the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

"I've been anxious waiting because the virus is so terrible, but I'll wait," said 89-year-old Ursula Sullivan.

Fresno County opened its mass vaccination site at the Fresno Fairgrounds this week, and people stood in line there for hours for one of about 1,500 shots per day.

Sierra Pacific is also planning to do 1,500 a day, even though primary care and vaccinations aren't their usual line of work.

"We felt we needed to help and we wanted to help, so we inserted ourselves," said Rick Lembo, the director of sports medicine at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics. "We don't do drive-up clinics, we're an orthopedic practice. We can cover a football game. We can cover a Fresno State game, a Clovis Unified game all day long. This is different for us."

The line ends at a tent in the parking lot where eligible patients will get their vaccinations. But even then, they're not quite done. They have to move over to a parking lot for at least 15 minutes to make sure there are no adverse side effects.

Paramedics stay ready, just in case, but they reported no serious problems.

Patients said the process was long, but easy.

"How's your arm feel?" a reporter asked Sandy Gavello just after she got her vaccination.

"Oh, nothing," Gavello said. "Absolutely nothing. So don't be afraid to get it."

And they're celebrating a sense of freedom that comes with vaccination.

"It's a breath of fresh air because now we feel like we can walk out in the public," Gavello said.

"We can get on with our lives again," said Niemotka. "They've been on hold for almost a year and at our age in life, losing a year like that is very, very devastating."

Far more people are ready to line up now that the state expanded the eligible population to anyone over the age of 65.

So the county is getting dozens of other medical providers ready to help with vaccine delivery in the coming weeks.
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