Stephanie Murphy’s scream while receiving her first COVID-19 vaccination shot was quickly followed with, “thank you,” Wednesday morning at a federally run mass vaccination site in Pueblo.
She and her two brothers, Joseph and Mike – all between the ages of 49 and 56 – came to the Colorado State Fairgrounds to get vaccinated after spending most of the past year confined to their Pueblo home.
Coloradans have experienced more than 516,200 cases of the coronavirus and more than 6,400 deaths, according to state data.
“It important for everyone to get it,” Joseph Murphy said. “Fact or fiction, just get it. It ain’t gonna hurt ya.”
Mike Murphy echoed his brother’s statement, then added, “Too many people have died from this, and it didn’t need to happen. We didn’t want any of that for us or for us to infect anyone else. We wanted to make sure we’ve gotten the shots and done our part.”
Mike was grateful for all the men and women in uniform providing the shots.
“These people are here to help you and you need to take advantage of it,” he said.
Fort Carson has roughly 140 soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, part of the 4th Infantry Division, in their fourth week of assisting local, state and federal partners to get shots into the arms of as many people possible.
Spc. Elijah Ruiz administered a second Pfizer dose aboard a city bus to Frances Brandenburger, 67, of Pueblo.
Each hour the site is open – 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. – Pueblo Transit offers free shuttle service from the transit center to the state fairgrounds and back.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten vaccinated without this service,” Brandenburger said. “I think it is pretty neat.”
Anyone 16 or older is eligible for the free vaccine. Appointments are optional but can be made at centura.org/vaccine or by calling 855-882-8065. The walk-up location is at South Prairie and West Mesa avenues in Pueblo.
Sgt. Joshua Montelongo, a 2008 Central High School (Pueblo) graduate, overseas the walk-up site where he has seen people arrive on foot, by bicycle, wheelchair, city bus and mobile home.
“It is a fantastic feeling being able to come back home and to work within the community I was born and raised in and give back in this particular manner,” Montelongo said.
Early Wednesday morning Montelongo was at an area soup kitchen spreading the word about free vaccines and easy availability at the fairgrounds.
Capt. Thomas Kraus, a Colorado Springs native and 2007 St. Mary’s High School graduate, said people are getting through the vaccination site within 20-25 minutes, which includes the 15-minute waiting period following the shot.
“The soldiers are absolutely crushing it,” he said. “They are doing such a good job.”
Maj. Andrew Tresch, of Slidell, Louis., said the site is easily capable of administering more than 3,000 shots a day but has only given out over 2,000 shots a few times.
“We averaged about 1,000 to 1,100 last week,” he said. “Come down and get your vaccination. It is super, super simple.”
Lt. Jack Stephenson, of Jacksons’ Gap, Ala., who works at a hospital on Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., was one of about 10 nurses from throughout the country assisting to make sure Fort Carson soldiers were positioned to succeed.
“All the guys I’m working with are incredibly intelligent and skilled at what they do,” Stephenson said.
Julie Brooks, a FEMA spokesperson for Region 8 – based in Lakewood and overseeing North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado – said the site is busiest when it first opens, again around lunch and then before it closes.
FEMA transitioned to control of the site on April 14 and is in partnership with the Department of Defense, Centura Health and the State of Colorado.
On Wednesday, FEMA had a team at Canon City High School to help reach folks in that area.
Brooks explained that the agency is focusing on being more equitable and coming to people rather than only waiting for people to come to designated sites.
Going to schools and community centers is part of its outreach.
Beginning Wednesday, FEMA also started supporting the Pueblo Department of Public Health with three medical teams to administer shots to people unable to leave their homes. Each team should be able to administer eight to 10 shots per day, according to Brooks.
This Saturday, the Pueblo site will be offering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Brooks said the site has always offered the Pfizer vaccine, which it will continue to do, but wanted to offer the J&J shot because people had asked for it. Depending on how it goes, Brooks said the J&J vaccine could become another option.
“It takes almost no time to get the vaccine now,” Brooks said. “We’re hoping people do their research and decide to get vaccinated for themselves or for their community. Now is the time to get it.”