How an Alberta COVID-19 vaccine clinic is giving shots twice as fast as others

A Red Deer COVID-19 vaccine clinic is giving shots twice as fast as those using more traditional models. 

Other health zones may adopt similar model to one being tried in Red Deer

A scribe (left) and immunizer (right) meet with a client in an immunization pod at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic. (Alberta Health Services)

A Red Deer COVID-19 vaccine clinic is giving shots twice as fast as clinics using more traditional models. 

It's the first time the model, inspired by rapid-flow clinics in Ontario, has been tried in Alberta, and it may be adopted elsewhere in the province as vaccine rollout expands.

"It's all organized, it was quite the lineup but it went really fast," said Iris MacDonald, who got her vaccine at the clinic at Westerner Park on Tuesday.

"I was shocked how fast it went. There were about 30 people ahead of us and you just — boom, boom, boom. You're up there and you're done."

With the lease running out on the previous space in a former car dealership, Alberta Health Services officials in central zone decided to relocate to the Westerner — a large campus that includes a convention centre and arena. 

With space to spread out, they decided to adapt the "hockey hub" strategy used in Ontario — a process that is faster and safer, said Andrea Thain Liptak, an executive director in Alberta Health Services' central zone, who is also part of the leadership of the province's vaccine task force. 

Andrea Thain Liptak is an executive director in Alberta Health Services' central zone, and is part of the leadership of the province's vaccine task force. (Andrea Thain Liptak)

Upon entering the site, clients follow similar protocols to what's done at most vaccine clinics: people are asked screening questions at the door, sanitize their hands and change their masks before being checked in by registration staff. 

In a traditional immunization clinic, a client would then wait to be called to a station. After getting the shot, the client heads to a different area to wait for 15 minutes before leaving.

"All of that takes time, and it also means the clients are in a number of different spaces through the clinic," Thain Liptak said. 

Under the new model, patients are stationary while staff come to them.

Clients get directed to a "pod" where they have time to take off their coats, roll up their sleeves and review information about the vaccine. That way, by the time the immunizer — usually a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse — and an administrative staff member called a scribe — arrive with their supplies on rolling carts, the patient is ready.

Normally, a nurse completes all the documentation. Under this model they can focus on giving the shot while the scribe does the paperwork, which the immunizer reviews and signs. After getting their shots, the clients stay where they are for the 15-minute waiting period while the immunizer and scribe move on.

Once the client leaves, cleaners sanitize the pod for the next person. Behind the scenes, other staff prepare vaccine and provide information to people waiting in line.

People make their way into a COVID-19 immunization clinic in Red Deer, Alta., on March 30, 2021. (Heather Marcoux)

Thain Liptak said the Westerner site has 48 pods, which are divided into four groups. Each group has one immunizer and scribe team moving through it.

"That gives us the capacity of about 1,000 immunizations a day in a 12-hour clinic," she said.

If more vaccine supply becomes available and more staff are added, the site has extra hubs and could expand to immunize up to 2,300 people a day, she said. 

Thain Liptak said the goal is for the immunizer to spend about three minutes with each client, but it can take up to five. Still, in a normal setting the expectation was that each immunizer could see six people in an hour. Thain Liptak said the new model is allowing for more than double the shots per hour using fewer staff. 

It seems to be working: on March 25, when the province wanted to test its ability to give 20,000 doses in one day, the staff at the Westerner cranked out 900 in eight hours. 

Though they borrowed the method from Ontario, it's not possible to move as quickly as in the rapid-flow clinics operating there do, Thain Liptak said. In Ontario, clients complete the fit-to-immunize and consent screenings electronically before they arrive at the clinic. In Alberta, different practice standards mean that is still done in person at the clinics, which adds a bit of time to the process. 

Thain Liptak said other jurisdictions are looking to incorporate elements of the model used in Red Deer, but space and staffing limitations mean it could look different in different settings.

She said there's been a lot of creativity and adaptability by staff in Red Deer and elsewhere as they try to figure out how to get as much vaccine into Albertans as quickly as possible.

With files from Heather Marcoux