At opening of state’s largest vaccination site, Beshear announces new Vaccination Challenge

As part of the opening of the Cardinal Stadium vaccination site this morning, Governor Andy Beshear announced the Team KY Vaccination Challenge, with a first goal of having 2.5 million Kentuckians vaccinated. The reward? Elimination of capacity limits and other restrictions on bars, restaurants, and events of less than 1,000 people.

The new vaccination site in the parking lot of the stadium in Louisville is the largest such site in the Commonwealth. With 28 lanes of drive-through vaccinations, the site can deliver up to 4,000 vaccinations a day for the next seven weeks, which would result in up to 200,000 persons being vaccinated through this one site. As U of L Health CEO Tom Miller commented during the press conference, “It’s like a certain Louisville football coach said – Go big or go home.”

The press conference for the opening of the site included Gov. Andy Beshear; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, University of Louisville president; Tom Miller, UofL Health CEO; and Dr. Jason Smith, UofL Health chief medical officer.

Dr. Bendapudi began by saying she was “so happy, so grateful, so honored” to work with the state, the city, and the community to open the site. She noted the leadership of Beshear and Fischer in fighting the pandemic, and the work of Miller and Smith in reaching out to communities all across the city with pop-up vaccination sites, church vaccination drives, and other efforts. And, she thanked the health care workers and volunteers making the site possible, and said, “When you see them, please, just tell them thank you. No hugs, no handshakes yet, but please say a big “Thank you” to them.”

She then made a point of saying “this is why it’s important to have a premier research university in this metropolitan setting in this Commonwealth.” The university’s health professionals have played a lead role in testing, treating, and vaccinating patients. Perhaps more noteworthy, the researchers at the university are working on preventative compounds, various treatment options, and community tracking tools.

Beshear began by thanking all the people present, including the media, and two state representatives in attendance, Lisa Willner and Nima Kulkarni. He also thanked Dr. Smith for being the first person vaccinated in the state. (Fischer later said this made Smith “patient zero.”)

Beshear noted that even though the state had set up many other vaccination sites, the Cardinal Stadium site was the “most ambitious operation to date.” He congratulated Team Kentucky on successfully repelling three different surges of the virus, and listed all the ways Kentucky has done better than other states. He then said “Our gains are real, and we ought to celebrate them; but the tough news is, this crisis is not over.”

He pointed out that many states are seeing a fourth wave, led by the new variants. And, the variants seem to be infecting more young people, and putting more of those young people in the hospital. How to stop this fourth wave in Kentucky? “Get your vaccine, and wear your mask.”

Beshear then announced the Team KY Vaccination Challenge, which ties the loosening of Covid restrictions to how many people in the state have been vaccinated.

The first goal is having 2.5 million Kentuckians having received at least their first shot of the vaccine. To date, the state has recorded approximately 1.55 million persons vaccinated, so about 950,000 more persons receiving the vaccine are needed to hit the goal.

Once the goal is hit, Beshear will remove the capacity restrictions, the distancing restrictions, and the curfew on restaurants, bars, and events with less than 1,000 people in attendance. (The mask mandate will still be in effect.)

He encouraged everyone to go to vaccine.ky.gov and sign up, as there are many vaccine slots available across the state.

Mayor Fischer called today’s opening of the stadium site an “inflection point” in the state’s fight against the pandemic, and pointed out that we now have more supply than demand. He announced that in addition to the new site, the Louisville vaccination team was going mobile, doing “micro responses” across the city.

Dr. Smith closed the formal part of the press conference, noting the cars already flowing through the site, and saying “We’ve got 28 lanes here, and one important thing to remind people is that it takes 10 minutes. From the moment you hit the front door of this location to the moment you get your vaccine is 10 minutes. That’s all it takes to save a life, all it takes to be a valuable member of this community.”

In follow-up questions from the media representatives, Beshear noted that the 2.5 million vaccination goal would represent about 70% of those eligible for the vaccine in the state. So far, about 1.55 million Kentuckians have received at least their first shot.

Asked about supply, Beshear said that the state had 400,000 vaccines ready to go right now, and was receiving about 250,000 doses a week. “One thing we’re going to need people to do, is to get the vaccine that is available to them.” He pointed out that the supply of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine is flat, due to the production problems associated with that vaccine.

The final question from the media was about reaching younger adults. Beshear said they were working every day on being “creative,” but did not go into detail about what that meant. He again pointed out that the current surges appear to be affecting young adults more, and said that the state was working to reach those who might be willing to get their shot if it was easier.

Throughout the press conference, every speaker emphasized two things: Thanking all the persons working to make the vaccination program possible, and encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. As Mayor Fischer said, “We’ve got the supply; now we need the people.”

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Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016.
He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.

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