How Stadiums and Amusement Parks Are Converted Into COVID-19 Vaccination Sites

line of cars at Petco Park for covid vaccine

Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Venues like stadiums, convention centers, and even parking lots are being converted into large-scale vaccination sites to quickly and efficiently vaccinate a high volume of eligible people.
  • These mass vaccination sites require appointments, so call ahead or sign up online. Spaces fill fast, so you may have to keep trying to find a slot. 
  • Some mass vaccination sites are indoors; others are drive throughs. Check the details and ask about parking and bathroom access.

Maryland has been hit by freezing weather and some snow days in the last few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from driving to the state’s Six Flags amusement park each day.  

The attraction they’re after isn’t a roller coaster or Ferris wheel. It’s the COVID-19 vaccine. Six Flags is one of dozens of mass vaccination sites established across the country in an effort to get more COVID-19 shots into more arms. Maryland state health officials expect the Six Flags location to vaccinate about 6,000 people per day once fully ramped up. 

A mass vaccination site set up in January at a sports stadium in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, can vaccinate up to 12,000 people per day. It operates 24/7.  

“We’re building new community vaccination centers from the ground up—in stadiums, community centers, and parking lots,” said Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator at a February 10 press briefing

Who Do Mass Vaccination Sites Serve?

“Mass vaccination sites especially benefit those in urban or densely-populated areas,” Katie Foss, PhD, a professor of media studies and health communications at Middle Tennessee State University, tells Verywell. “Large numbers of people can easily get to the locations, and the sites not only benefit those immunized but also positively impact the communities by efficiently vaccinating large numbers of people.” 

Foss says the sites are far less optimal for rural areas that generally don’t have spaces big enough to be transformed. They’re also not very accessible for people with limited mobility or those who don't have a car.

Mass vaccination sites may also be overwhelming for people who are vaccine hesitant. 

“Those who are reluctant to take the vaccine may feel more comfortable doing so from their primary care physicians or at their local pharmacies [where] they can ask questions and have more of a personal experience,” Foss says.

Why They’re Important

Mass vaccination sites are just one type of vaccination center being created for administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. Other sites include:

“We need to meet the needs of patients at multiple different venues,” Michael Parry, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Stamford Health in Connecticut, tells Verywell. Parry is heading up a mass vaccination site on the hospital’s campus. 

As COVID-19 cases linked to the more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants increase in the U.S., sites that can vaccinate a lot of people, quickly, become even more important. “You blunt that negative effect [of the mutations] by vaccinating as many people as you can as quickly as you can,” said Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical adviser to President Biden and the director of the National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a conversation with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, MD, last week. 

How Do Mass Vaccination Sites Work?

The Maryland Six Flags and the Arizona stadium are drive-through vaccination sites. Shots are administered through car windows.

 Other mass vaccination sites are walk-ins at locations like convention centers and hospitals.  

“While many people are taking the first vaccination appointment they can find, it’s a good idea to consider your mobility and the site’s logistics before booking,” Parry says. “Sites are running as efficiently as possible, but traffic snarls at drive-through sites could mean you may not have easy access to a bathroom if you need it. But that could be much easier at a walk-in center.” 

More Venues Are Coming

Ahead of the Super Bowl, the National Football League (NFL) reached out to President Biden to offer its 30 league stadiums as vaccination sites now that the season has ended. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced plans to set up at least 100 large-scale sites. 

Navigating Supply and Staffing Challenges 

States are getting financial, personnel, and logistical help from FEMA, as well as help from the Department of Defense to run these major sites. Stadium staff are also offering on-the-ground help. 

In an article published in JAMA at the end of January, Christopher Longhurst, MD, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer for quality and safety at UC San Diego Health, described the logistics needed for vaccinating about 8,000 people per day at a Major League Baseball stadium, Petco Park. He credited a long list of the partners needed to help make this happen, including:

  • San Diego County for providing vaccines and funding for police, fire marshals, and traffic control
  • UC San Diego Health for sharing a logistical model learned through on-site employee vaccination
  • The San Diego Padres (a baseball team) for space and event-planning experience 

Longhurst tells Verywell logistical changes to Petco Park’s vaccination efforts were made as needed. For example, while it launched as a drive-through site only, walk-in appointments were made available because the location is easily-accessible via public transportation. And to speed the process of charting patients and booking appointments for second doses, the site added “scribes”—partners for each person physically administering vaccines—to keep records.

Longhurst says one delightful impact of the mass vaccination site has been the turnout and enthusiasm of volunteers, who take on roles from greeter to traffic director. 

“The volunteers say helping people get their vaccinations has given them a sense of purpose and made them feel worthwhile—a change, they say, from the anxiousness and sadness many have felt previously during the pandemic,” Longurst says.

What This Means For You

Mass vaccination sites offer hundreds to thousands of vaccination appointments. Eligibility is based on state and local rules, but those can change, so keep checking state and local health department websites or phone lines. Make an appointment before you go.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Longhurst CA, Kremer B, Maysent PS. Rapid implementation of a vaccination superstation. JAMA. January 28, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.0801

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.