Dr. Michael Ripchinski speaks about the Vaccinate Lancaster community vaccination center during a media tour of the site on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
Dr. Michael Ripchinski speaks about the Vaccinate Lancaster community vaccination center during a media tour of the site on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Lancaster County's eagerly awaited Covid-19 community vaccination center is welcoming its first patients at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Related: Here's what patients will experience at Lancaster's Covid-19 vaccine center

Rock Lititz employees have spent the past two weeks at the 100,000 square foot former Bon-Ton store at the Park City Center mall, unrolling carpet, setting up tables, chairs and computer equipment, and preparing for the historic effort to vaccinate every county resident who wants it — at the rate of 6,000 shots a day, if all goes well and supplies are available.

"This center really represents hope," Dr. Michael Ripchinski said Tuesday during a media tour of the site before its opening day.

Ripchinski is chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. LG Health is the lead medical partner in the Vaccinate Lancaster coalition, a team comprising Lancaster County government, the four health systems here and the Lancaster City & County Medical Society.

Coalition members are proud of the public-private partnership's efforts, and say they're unaware of any comparable collaboration in Pennsylvania.

"We think it's a model not just for the commonwealth, but for the nation," Ripchinski said.

Vanessa Felty

10 shots a minute

When the vaccination site is running at full tilt, there will a vaccine being administered every 6 seconds, said Vanessa Felty, vaccination unit leader.

The center has the capacity to use whichever vaccines are available: The current options are the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the recently approved one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It wouldn't be easy to operate with all three at the same time, but it can be done if necessary, Ripchinski said.

Rock Lititz is managing logistics at the center, while TriStarr Staffing is handling recruitment and staffing. Brookfield Properties, the mall owner, is the site location partner.

The site's largest cost is staffing: If it runs at full capacity, it's projected to cost $20 million or more. The Vaccinate Lancaster coalition is finalizing reimbursement arrangements with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ripchinski said.

Registration for appointments opened Monday. Through noon Tuesday, about 33,000 people had already signed up, Ripchinski said. Most used the online portal at VaccinateLancaster.org; Vaccinate Lanaster's call center, which debuted along with the portal, fielded several hundred calls as well, he said.

The south entrance of the Vaccinate Lancaster community vaccination center at the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center mall is seen on  Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
The south entrance of the Vaccinate Lancaster community vaccination center at the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center mall is seen on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Appointments by lottery

Pennsylvania is in vaccination Phase 1A, with eligibility open to individuals over 65 or who have a qualifying medical conditions. As appointments at the center become available, individuals are being chosen randomly from the pool of eligible registrants, Ripchinski said.

The center is getting started with 1,000 Pfizer vaccine doses that LG Health had remaining from last week, plus another 5,000 doses that arrived Tuesday.

On the first couple of days, the number of shots will be "in the 500 range," Ripchinski said, scaling up to around 1,000 shots a day over the weekend. By Tuesday, the center expects to have worked through its inventory and have more on the way from the state Department of Health.

The department has approved the center as a vaccination provider, which means it is eligible to apply for its own dose allocations, rather than having to go through its partner health systems. Still, supply remains a major concern, because it depends not on anyone local, but on the federal supply chain and allocation decisions made by the state Department of Health.

Increasing supply is "the greatest challenge," Ripchinski said, echoing a point county and medical leaders have emphasized consistently. Still, he said the coalition is optimistic, based on assurances from the federal government, that supplies will ramp up to acceptable levels.

Tim Stuhldreher