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Race directors find new finish line in coordinating vaccine clinics

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 4:35 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As more people get vaccinated, there’s a growing need for mass vaccination clinics capable of handling a lot of people at once.

Setting up and coordinating those clinics takes some skill, and it turns out, some of the best people to do it have no medical training, but they’re really good at planning marathons and races.

“I have virtually no medical background,” says Sean Ryan. “My background is logistics.”

Yet Ryan, a veteran race director in Northeast Wisconsin, has found himself in uncharted waters, surrounded by all things medical, and not a thing to do with a distance run or triathlon.

It started last year when COVID-19 canceled the dozen or so races he usually coordinates annually, leaving Ryan with a lot of time on his hands.

Enter Bellin Health.

“I was only helping out on a temporary basis with COVID testing, but one thing led to another, and they needed help with vaccination planning,” explains Ryan.

He’s used to setting up runner villages -- what they call the areas where runners gather on race weekends -- so he’s putting those skills to use setting up a vaccine village at Lambeau Field, a partnership with Bellin Health, Brown County Public Health and the Packers.

While it’s a little like organizing an athletic event for thousands in terms of work, he gets a new title to highlight the importance of such a vital role: Bellin’s logistics lead for mass vaccinations.

“You learn as a race organizer, a lot of your planning and thinking goes into how to move a significant volume of people through a bottleneck,” says Ryan. “And in this case, it’s about how do we turn a thing like a gymnasium, or a hospital hallway, or the atrium at a football stadium into a venue where we can move a significant amount of people through and get them vaccinated efficiently?”

All that planning requires someone who thinks big picture and is really good with logistics.

It’s what race directors are born to do, which might be why Ryan says he’s not the only race organizer taking on this new role.

“There are other race directors around the country that are doing the same thing. I know my counter-parts out in Boston have already set up a half a dozen clinics,” says Ryan.

The Lambeau mass vaccination site is the fifth one he’s helped set up for Bellin, and while he likes the new challenge, he’s hoping the thousands being vaccinated there each week, help get him back to his old job very soon.

“It’s very fulfilling. I like to tell people COVID took away my career completely last year, so now I feel like I get to fight in the front lines against COVID. I’m helping the medical team to beat back COVID and hopefully get our society back to normal,” he says.

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