There’s a longstanding joke that eyebrows raise in disbelief when someone says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
But, said a smiling Gov. John Carney, this time it’s true, and the proof is in the six-day coronavirus second-dose vaccination event at Dover International Speedway that began on Sunday, Feb. 21, and continues through Friday, Feb. 26.
“This is a big deal,” Carney said during a press conference on Monday, Feb. 22, as he praised Tim Pheil, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3 federal coordination officer, for “providing more help than you can imagine,” and Jim Hosfelt, Dover International Speedway director, for making the site available. The governor said he’s looking forward “to the day when we are watching NASCAR around the track.”
State officials announced on Monday, Feb. 22, that appointments would open on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 23, for those who had received the first dose of the vaccine 35 or more days prior and had not yet gotten a second dose, regardless of where in Delaware they received the first dose.
The newly available appointments are for Thursday and Friday this week, at the Speedway, making use of incoming vaccine supplies to expand the range of people who can get vaccinated at the multi-day event from just those who had previously been vaccinated at specific state-run events in late January.
This week’s vaccination event is now available to those who live, work or obtain health care in Delaware, and who received the first dose in Delaware prior to Jan. 22. Scheduling for the second doses will open at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at de.gov/fema, or call 1-833-643-1715.
When arriving at the Speedway, people with appointments should use the Leipsic Road entrance. The website states that a full tank of gas is necessary and everyone being vaccinated should have a driver’s license or photo identification, proof of the first coronavirus vaccination, confirmation of the appointment and snacks to enjoy while waiting in line.
During the press conference on Monday, Carney also thanked Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, and A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.
Pheil called the weeklong venture “a great opportunity to tell the story of collaboration” and said his team will look at “efficiencies we can gain, so more vaccines can be given.”
“I stand ready to help,” he said.
Asked about when the general population will be vaccinated — a future step once those 65 or older have all received vaccines — Carney replied, “Not a day too soon.”
There is no set date yet, he said.
Asked if he becomes frustrated when Delaware residents yell at him because not enough vaccine is available, Carney smiled slightly and nodded. “That’s what usually happens,” he said.
“People are yelling and screaming at me, but if you want to lift your spirits up, come to an event like this. Everybody is just delighted. The people want the vaccine. There is an intensity because they realize it’s a life-saving vaccine and it’s going to help them get back to normal,” he said.
Asked if Delaware is getting its fair share of the vaccine, Carney said federal allocation is based on the proportion of eligible adult population.
“We could chalk up big numbers if we could get more supply,” the governor said.
Asked about plans for neighboring states, Pheil said Region 3 is planning additional vaccination centers in the Philadelphia area and in Maryland.
Asked how recent inclement weather has affected administration of vaccines, he said he had “brought people from all over the United States to Delaware” to help with the event.
“People came from Washington. They came from California. … There was a time in the preparation phase when we were stuck. The arctic weather blasting down to Dallas really had an impact on me saying to myself, ‘Are we going to get the staff here in time?’ It has had a tremendous impact. But through that adversity, the people who made it here and the people who have supported this site have been absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“This is a great example of what partnership should look like — FEMA, DEMA — and really there are hundreds of them who are involved. … I spoke with employees who came as far away as medics who worked in Yellowstone National Park and everywhere in between,” Carney said.
“On Sunday, we vaccinated about 1,500. Three thousand today and in the days ahead. We have a few doses left, and we will make appointments for those who need their second doses, who had their first doses, and that will open up today or tomorrow,” he said, referring to Monday or Tuesday this week.
“We have made great strides in Delaware, getting needles in people’s arms, and that has been our objective. … Delivering first doses becomes more challenging every day as folks become eligible for that second dose — so when, God willing, that Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is one dose becomes available, that will be a game changer for us,” he said.
“I just want you to understand how important it is to make sure everybody accesses these important vaccines,” Carney said, adding that life has changed since the first positive case of the coronavirus was identified in Delaware on March 11, 2020.