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A medical worker holds a needle during a training exercise at Los Lunas High School, the designated COVID-19 vaccine site for Valencia County. While the needle didn’t contain a vaccine during the drive-thru event, it’s how the vaccine will be administered once it becomes available.

LOS LUNAS — Multiple local agencies and state health officials gathered at Los Lunas High School on Thursday, Dec. 17, to conduct a test run on a large scale drive-thru vaccination site, something that is likely to be replicated in other areas in the state. 

Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said this training exercise was the first of the kind in the state.

“We, and others, feel it’s extremely important to continue training,” Culp said during a Dec. 16 Valencia County Commission meeting. “Valencia County is being looked at because we’re doing it first. We have Bernalillo County and Sandoval, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Department of Health, all coming down to watch us. This is the end result of all the training we did for the testing sites this summer — being able to distribute the vaccine.”

Belen Public Health nurse Tia Montoya said the training exercise didn’t include an actual vaccination, as that is still making its way around the state to nursing homes and frontline workers. The goal of the training was to see how this possibility will play out when the vaccination becomes available to the general population.

“Since March, we’ve had the opportunity to see an interagency collaborative that has grown since the beginning of the pandemic,” Montoya said. “This is an accumulation of all those days that we put in, all those hours that we put in, all the additional testing and flu vaccines and everything in anticipation for the unveiling, and release and distribution of the COVID vaccine. You’re seeing the end product of all that work.”

Montoya said the training was to “add as much reality to the event” to make the eventual drive-thru vaccination site a much smoother process when it comes time.

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Cars wait in line at a training exercise for COVID-19 vaccinations at Los Lunas High School. The event was conducted to emulate how the vaccine will be administered once it becomes available to the general public.

The reality of the exercise was full blown — from patients filling out forms to health officials using and discarding faux vaccination needles. The event participants tried to emulate a real world event as much as possible.

Volunteers in cars drove up to the high school, making their way from Los Cerritos Road, past the baseball and football fields to the west side of the main building where they checked in. From there, drive-thru volunteers made their way to the front of the high school where they received simulated treatment, and eventually to the southeast parking lot for a 15 minute incubation period. When people do receive the vaccine, medical personnel will need to watch to see if anyone has adverse reactions from the vaccine.

“If individual citizen feels like they might have something they’re concerned about after getting the vaccine, we have established a location adjacent to the immunization center where we will have EMTs and paramedics going through and holding individuals there for a CDC recommended, advisor recommended time frame to help ensure that no side effects or adverse reactions to the medication happens,” Montoya said. “So those are set up to ensure everybody when they leave here, they’re in good shape.”

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Tia Montoya, a nurse at the Belen Public Health Office, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Los Lunas Fire Chief John Gabaldon and other first responders last Friday who have been helping with coronavirus testing in Valencia County.

Sydney Olivas, the marketing specialist with Los Lunas Schools, said choosing the high school as the designated vaccination site made sense considering the size of the property. She said the collaboration between agencies made it possible.

“It was really a phone call that I believe came from the Los Lunas fire chief,” Olivas said. “We needed a site that was large enough to accommodate this many people, and in this case, Los Lunas High School was the best one.

“Once the high school was selected, it was really about just having the meetings to get it coordinated as quickly as possible.”

Some frontline workers and medical personnel in the county have already received their vaccination and more are expected to get it in the coming days.

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Medical personnel look over documents that patients will need to fill out prior to getting the vaccine.

But when the time comes for the general public to receive the vaccine, those administering it will wear personnel protective equipment, Montoya said.

There is no designated date to distribute the vaccine. Culp estimated it may be here in a month’s time — and maybe even a bit longer. It also isn’t clear which vaccine will be administered at the site, but Pfizer and Moderna both have approval by the Food and Drug Administration for their COVID-19 vaccines.

However, when the time comes, signing up for vaccination should be relatively easy.

“It’ll be through the state website — there is a website,” Montoya said. “If anybody has used the COVID testing software, we’ve modified it to include the COVID vaccine. You can call any public health office and they’ll provide you the link to get registered. It’s a very simple process, a very quick process. So, you know, from that perspective, there’s no reason not to do it.”

Staff Writer

Matthew Narvaiz was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attended the University of New Mexico and worked at the Taos News before coming to the News-Bulletin. He covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.

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