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Outlook // Hamburg Coronavirus Vaccination Center

Exhibition Hall with a New Purpose

The Hamburg vaccination center is one of Germany’s largest vaccination centers. On January 5, 2021, it commenced operations in Hall A3. Another hall was added in mid February – much to the relief of Dr. Dirk Heinrich and his team.

“The Exhibition Halls Contribute to the Reputation of Vaccination”

This is where to get your vaccine: together with five other colleagues, Dr. Dirk Heinrich, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, is the medical director of the Hamburg vaccination center in the exhibition halls. The center is operated by the association of statutory physicians in Hamburg on behalf of the city’s social authority. In addition to the five vaccination modules (clusters) in Hall A3, Hall A2 has housed three additional vaccination modules since mid February. People to be vaccinated are only allowed into the well-secured vaccination center if they can present confirmation of a vaccination appointment. Medical explanation and clarification is provided by doctors inside the vaccination clusters. The actual vaccination is generally carried out by a medical assistant.

Dirk Heinrich, Head of the Vaccination Center
© Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Hamburg / Marco Grundt

Interview with Dr. Dirk Heinrich

Dr. Heinrich, how did you come to be the medical director of the Hamburg vaccination center?

As the chairman of the representative assembly of Hamburg’s association of statutory physicians, I was informed of the plans from early on. I then volunteered to take on the task, because I consider it extremely important that people get vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to fighting the pandemic. There won’t be any sense of security until at least 80 percent of the population has been vaccinated. We shouldn’t forget that this is about people’s lives! I had also had multiple contacts with infected patients in my ENT practices, so I had experienced the danger of the virus firsthand. And I also saw how some of the COVID-19 patients that I had treated didn’t come back. Not because they had recovered, but because they had died.

Looking back, was the decision to take on the medical director position the right one?

Absolutely. I really enjoy working here – it’s downright euphoric. Every day is different and comes with increasing challenges. I also have a great and diverse team. And it was a lot of fun for me to help plan and set up the vaccination center as the first doctor on the scene.

When did you begin with the planning process?

That was in mid November. Everything went quickly thanks to an extremely effective team, great partners, and smooth collaboration with the responsible parties at Hamburg Messe. We were finished on December 15 and could have hit the ground running, but – as we all know – there were no vaccinations available yet at that time. We ultimately began administering vaccinations on January 5 and, to date, we haven’t had to cancel a single appointment.

How satisfied are you with the current vaccination center in the exhibition halls?

I am extremely satisfied. The exhibition halls are well suited to be a vaccination center. The location is great, the air circulation is excellent, and the heights of the ceilings is also advantageous. And the hygienic conditions are fantastic to boot. Finally, the professional collaboration with the employees of the trade fair company is also worthy of praise – the hall supervisors in particular are a real help to us. All in all, the high standards of the exhibition halls, the cleanliness, and the seriousness of the surroundings contribute to the positive reputation of the vaccination process.

Guide to the vaccination center
© HMC / Michael Zapf

How many people could you theoretically vaccinate each day?

If enough vaccination doses were available, we could vaccinate between 7,000 and 10,000 people daily across our total of 64 vaccination lines. But that only works when you’ve got a well-trained team. And that’s what we have. We have now become a medium-sized service enterprise with more than 2,000 employees – from doctors and medical professionals to security and cleaning staff. Per shift – we work in two shifts – there are about 460 people working, of which about 90 are doctors who have volunteered to work in the center. They are responsible for educating patients and answering questions, reviewing vaccination eligibility, and monitoring the vaccinations carried out by trained personnel.

When you walk around the vaccination center, the really positive atmosphere stands out.

I feel the same way. Our employees enjoy coming here, because they know that their work is making a meaningful contribution to the fight against the pandemic. And we are driven by the positive feedback that we receive from the people we have vaccinated. They’re all extremely happy to be getting a vaccine. Most are effusive in their thankfulness – they praise the organization and the friendliness of the workers. This is also to be seen in the postcards that we’ve received, which are now exhibited in the employee area. Things like “A+” and “ten points” are not seldom seen on those cards. Personally, I was really happy about a teddy bear an older woman from Schnelsen had given me as a thank-you. An 81-year-old vaccination patient drew a funny cartoon and sent it to my practice – it was so great that I nearly fell out of my chair.

Left to right: Social Senator Melanie Leonhard, Mayor Peter Tschentscher, and Walter Plassman, chairman of the Hamburg association of statutory physicians, at the opening of the vaccination center

Is there anything you find frustrating from time to time?

For sure. I can’t stand it, for instance, when people try to sneak in to get themselves a vaccination. That’s selfish, because that could mean that an older person doesn’t get their vaccine and could therefore come down with COVID-19 and die. Those people are few and far between, thankfully.

You’ve recently become quite active on Twitter.

Yes, because it’s important to me to provide the world with news about the situation of vaccinations in Hamburg and to share my enthusiasm for vaccination. And I also hope to assuage some of the fears that people have with regard to getting vaccinated. We should all be happy that these vaccines exist!

Final question: you have two ENT practices, hold a number of volunteer positions, and are the medical director of the Hamburg vaccination center. How do you manage it all?

When I have fun doing something, then I can unlock unexpected strength. Luckily, I am also able to make due with only five hours of sleep a night. And, with very little free time, I don’t have to worry about getting enough movement: per shift at the vaccination center, I take 15,000 steps and travel 28 flights of stairs.