Breaking records and setting the sights high for local seniors
On a brisk Saturday in February, the liveliest place in Lake County, Illinois was a typically vacant expo center at the county fairgrounds.
This building, which also serves as a winter home for tractors and boats, has a new off-season day job: COVID-19 vaccine drive-thru clinic.
About 50 AbbVie volunteers bustled around the center, the first day the company provided volunteers to the clinic run by the Lake County Health Department. With a goal to beat the record of 1,000 doses delivered in a day at this location – a task achieved by 3 p.m. – every volunteer played a critical role, from data entry and traffic control to mixing and administering the vaccine.
These opportunities are part of AbbVie’s broader commitment to supporting vaccine efforts in local communities around its headquarters, including launching a temporary vaccination clinic at the Greenbelt Cultural Center to vaccinate North Chicago and Waukegan seniors over 65 years old, a high-risk population. In partnership with local nonprofits, such as North Chicago Community Partners and the United Way of Lake County, and the cities of North Chicago and Waukegan, the aim of the senior clinic is to vaccinate every eligible person in these underserved communities — an anticipated 5,000+ people.
The senior vaccination clinic is set up with efficiency in mind, and seniors who register are often able to make an appointment within 24 hours.
“Seniors across the U.S. are struggling to get vaccinations for myriad reasons, not the least of which is access to technology,” says Claudia Carravetta, vice president, corporate responsibility & global philanthropy, AbbVie. “As part of our commitment to health equity, we saw an opportunity right in our backyard to work with our partners to remove barriers and get seniors vaccinated quickly and with compassion.”
One senior getting her second and final dose, who brought her 90-year-old neighbor to get vaccinated as well, recalled how she came through the clinic doors 3 weeks prior for her first dose.
“I am now leaving through the same doors and feeling so grateful,” the woman says. “I will never forget you.”
Partnerships accelerate vaccine rollout
The state’s third-largest county by population, Lake County’s goal is to vaccinate 80% of its residents, amounting to about 560,000 people, says Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center.
Support from the community and corporate partners is essential to continue the vaccine rollout plan, he says. In total, about 550 AbbVie volunteers will staff 11 vaccine clinic days at the Fairgrounds this spring, directly contributing to about 11,000 vaccinations. In combination with the senior clinic efforts, AbbVie is helping bring an anticipated 16,000+ vaccines to local residents.
“Public-private partnerships are an important piece of mass vaccination efforts, and AbbVie has really demonstrated how it should be done,” Pfister says. “We couldn’t do it without our community. We couldn’t do it without corporations like AbbVie.”
Relieving the frontline workers, even for just a day
AbbVie Safety Data Scientist Surya Jayanti, a pharmacist by training, was eager to use her skillset in a meaningful way.
She and her husband, Venkata, a fellow AbbVie employee, grabbed volunteer spots for day 1 at the clinic just minutes after learning of the opportunity. The decision to sign up was easy, Jayanti says.
“The past year has been very difficult and so many people lost their lives,” she says. “This is my opportunity to give back, and I am very happy that I’m relieving the frontline workers for one day at least.”
Jayanti was tasked with mixing the vaccine, pulling it into syringes and bringing it to fellow volunteers who administered doses to community members.
Administering the vaccine was a rewarding experience for Inge LeBlanc, a clinical safety analyst for AbbVie and a critical care nurse.
Together with several other trained vaccinators, LeBlanc helped administer over 1,000 doses to Lake County residents during her volunteer shift. Many of the people receiving vaccines were there for their second dose, meaning they were becoming fully vaccinated.
One woman LeBlanc vaccinated was asked a standard screening question about any side effects from her first dose.
“She said, ‘My only side effect was I was ecstatic to get the vaccine,’” LeBlanc says. “How do you cap that?”
Every little bit makes a difference
Another essential volunteer task is traffic control, which includes organizing vehicles into 8 different lanes and cycling them in and out quickly and safely.
In his native Brazil, AbbVie global marketing manager Felipe Marques Goncalves is a medical doctor. But at the Fairgrounds, he donned a reflective vest and took on traffic control.
Many drivers waved, smiled and cheered at Marques Goncalves as they pulled into their spot to be vaccinated. He described the day as inspiring and indicative of the commitment AbbVie has made to local communities.
“I think it is a fundamental part to make us know that we are part of something bigger, that we’re committed to society,” Marques Goncalves says.
In memory of loved ones lost
Personal losses motivated Wanda Freeman-Sewell, a senior manager in regulatory affairs at AbbVie, to volunteer as a data entry screener. She reflected on three important people lost to COVID-19: her husband’s best friend, her sorority sister and her cousin.
Doing her part as a volunteer could help inspire others to do the same, and for them to get over any fears of being vaccinated, Freeman-Sewell says.
“I often tell my friends that if they have any reservations, and they don’t want to do it for themselves, to do it for their family,” she says. “In the United States, we reached over 500,000 lives lost and another life is too many.”
Learn more about AbbVie’s ongoing response to COVID-19.