New Mexicans took to The Pit Wednesday morning as University of New Mexico Health officials began distributing the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Pit, normally packed at this time of the year for an evening basketball game, saw empty stands as a large crowd of masked residents lined up outside. 

The Department of Health, the UNM Health system and UNM Athletics coordinated to distribute about 1,700 vaccines on Jan 20. Their goal is to replicate that for the next three weeks.



“We plan to be operational Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., depending on vaccine supply received,” Mark Rudi, a spokesperson for the UNM Health Sciences Center, said. “As a reminder, there are no walk-in vaccinations. All registrations for vaccinations need to go through the Department of Health vaccination website.”

Once this initial qualifying group receives their second booster shot — provided supplies are available — officials are hoping to almost double that number, vaccinating just over 3,300 people a day.

Vaccination stations were located around the arena concourse. Patients waited for about 10 minutes outside, went through a line inside The Pit, answered some questions and received their vaccination. After 15 minutes of observation (to be sure of no allergic reaction), they were allowed to continue their day.

“People are very happy with the process, but (they also feel) a sense of hope that this pandemic can end soon,” Christina O’Connell, registered nurse unit director of the UNM Southeast Heights Clinic and the acting director of The Pit’s COVID-19 clinic, said. “It has made us very proud being a part of UNMH because we've been involved in taking great care of COVID patients, research and now we’re able to participate in defending the further spread of the pandemic.”

UNM Human Resources sent out an email on Thursday afternoon encouraging UNM employees to volunteer to staff the clinic site. Volunteers will be eligible to receive the vaccine if they commit to helping out for at least 20 hours over the next few months. For more information about this effort, the University directed people to the Bring Back the Pack website.

Nick Romero is a staff photographer and freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @nicromerophoto