FOXBOROUGH — Gillette Stadium sat empty this football season, a surreal scene that could hardly have been imagined before the pandemic came.
But starting Monday, the home of the New England Patriots will become a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination clinic, providing a glimmer of hope for a state that has lost more than 13,000 residents to the virus. First responders are eligible to receive the vaccine on Monday, and the site will open to more people as the state proceeds with its phased immunization program.
On Friday, members of the media toured the site, entering through the 40,000 square-foot Putnam Club, often used as a ballroom or meeting area. All visitors will need to pass a “wellness assessment,” either online or through Gillette Stadium’s smartphone app, to enter the facility. After completing the check, they can take an escalator to a registration area — and a stunning view of the gridiron.
The stadium concession stands, empty of food and beverages, are being used to store the Moderna vaccine. The freezers that normally sit behind the bar are cold enough to safely store the drug, and nurses prepare the shots on-site.
Vaccinations began Thursday at the stadium for staff. Next week, first responders must show proof of their employment, with a badge or identification card, to ensure they’re eligible to receive a shot.
CIC Health, a Cambridge technology company with a focus on COVID-19 testing, is running the site. The company was formed about six months ago as a subsidiary of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which operates co-working spaces.
Next week, it aims to vaccinate 500 people a day, and hopes to double that total each successive week. The site is open five days a week, but Rachel Wilson, the company’s chief operating officer, said she hopes it will eventually be open every day. Wilson said the company tried at least five different layouts at Gillette to maximize social distancing and has launched an online scheduling platform on its website.
The group plans to open additional large-scale sites in the coming weeks, she said.
The company hopes to avoid lines during the vaccination process, something chief marketing and experience officer Rodrigo Martinez says it has been able to do with its coronavirus testing sites. Since the company began testing in August, it has administered more than 650,000 across New England, he said.
“Having a platform that allows us to schedule appointments, control the flow of people, and offer a good experience ... it makes sense health-wise,” he said.
CIC estimates that people will spend 45 minutes to 1 hour at the site, depending on how long they need to be monitored after receiving a shot.
Fallon Ambulance, a longtime medical service provider at Gillette, will prepare and administer the vaccines. Mass General Brigham will provide “medical oversight.” Event management company DMSE Sports will offer onsite operations and logistics management, and the clinician network PWN Health will provide customer support.
Gillette is providing parking spaces, and stadium staff will help manage the flow of people entering and exiting the stadium.
On Thursday, the stadium tweeted out a video heralding a “major moment in Foxboro as the first vaccines arrived on-site.”
Once someone receives a vaccine at the site, they will be directed to sit in a 15-minute observation area, where medical staff can assist with any adverse symptoms. Those who know they may be susceptible to a reaction are automatically taken to a 30-minute observation area.
During that waiting period, patients are asked to use their phone to book their next vaccination appointment on CIC’s website to complete the two-dose cycle.
At first, Gillette will offer the vaccine from Cambridge-based Moderna, but Martinez said the state asked that CIC also be prepared to distribute the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires colder storage temperatures.
Part of CIC’s mission, Martinez said, is to encourage Massachusetts residents to get vaccinated. That’s why CIC is encouraging people to take pictures after they receive their shot and share them online. Those getting vaccinated can visit the outdoor seating area and can take photos with the field in the background.
The state has embarked on a phased vaccination schedule that began with front-line health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities. On Monday, it began to vaccinate first responders at 119 sites around the state. People in congregate care, including shelters and prisons, will begin receiving doses next week.
“Gillette Stadium is accustomed to accommodating large audiences and we are honored to provide a safe location to expedite the vaccination of first responders, and to soon expand to residents throughout the Commonwealth,” said Jim Nolan, the stadium’s chief operating officer, in a statement.
The Boston Red Sox are also working with state officials on making Fenway Park a mass vaccination site. Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that he expected four or five mass vaccination sites to be open by the end of the month.
Mass vaccination sites are being used elsewhere around the country, including in Chicago, New York, and Washington state. Hopes of a major increase in vaccinations were raised this week when the Trump administration said it would be releasing doses held in reserve. But The Washington Post reported Friday that no such reserve existed.