EAGAN, Minn. — The indoor practice facility at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center was bustling on Friday afternoon.
But it wasn't filled with Vikings coaches and players going through a practice.
Instead, the organization and the State of Minnesota teamed up to make TCO Performance Center a COVID-19 vaccination site.
"If our goal is to use our platform to make a positive impact, I can't imagine a way we could do that more effectively than something like this right now," Vikings Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller told Vikings.com. "The goal for us with COVID has to always been to be helpful to our community and the public at large and do the right thing from a community health standpoint.
"For us, that means helping encourage people to get vaccines and providing our facility," Miller added. "If people can get vaccinated and help everyone stay healthy and safe to bring back more of a normal life, that's a positive thing for our entire community."
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz praised the organization for doing its part to help ramp up vaccination efforts and encouraged Minnesotans to sign up for the state’s Vaccine Connector program to stay updated on when they could possibly get a vaccine.
"What a great space to be in," Walz said. "There was no hesitation whatsoever from the Minnesota Vikings of … giving us their facility, helping make this happen and creating this space so we could vaccinate."
The first doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine were distributed Friday morning after arriving in the state on Wednesday.
TCO Performance Center will be used as a temporary vaccination site from Friday to Tuesday, with 13,400 vaccines expected to be given to front-line healthcare workers and people who are 65 and older.
"These folks are one shot and they are done," Walz said. "Our timeline of getting folks vaccinated is being compressed because of the amount of vaccine and because of how quickly this is getting out."
The Minnesota National Guard was on hand to help organize the event, while dozens of nurses distributed the vaccine.
Miller said the plan to use TCO Performance Center as a vaccination site came together rather quickly, and included the help of Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman and Executive Vice President/Vikings Chief Legal Officer Karin Nelsen.
"We've been talking about potentially hosting a vaccination site for a number of weeks," Miller said. "[Sugarman] was running point on a lot of that, so he and Karin Nelson started getting word from Dakota County they might be interested.
"The three of us went to the RiverCentre in St. Paul last Friday just to tour it and understand what goes into it. They said they would be in touch," Miller added. "So on Monday, they got in touch. We were a little surprised it happened so quickly, but it's been a tremendous amount of work from a lot of people."
Miller also credited others in the medical, legal, operations and security departments across the organization.
Miller added that the Vikings will remain in communication with state officials on whether TCO Performance Center would host a vaccination site in the future.
"It's too early to say that," Miller said. "We're going to stay in touch with the state and see what they need. If we can accommodate them, then we obviously want to do that."
Vikings partner Pepsi delivered a variety of soda, Gatorade and Aquafina for the volunteers coordinated by the state and the National Guard.
Even as the vaccine rollout increases, Walz urged the public to stay vigilant with wearing masks, washing their hands and continuing to incorporate social distancing measures so that COVID can soon become a thing of the past.
"I believe we're in the fourth quarter," Walz said. "There's reasons to be concerned on these variants, but there's reasons to believe Minnesota is really well positioned to break the back of this thing in the next, probably, four weeks.
"We could be very close to two million [fully vaccinated people] by the first of April and that's a pretty big game changer," Walz later added. "This is a good day. Every cliché can be used, but it's spring in Minnesota and that long, dark winter is coming to an end. There are a few things we can do — masks, wash your hands, get tested and stay home if you're sick — but above all else, get signed up and get your vaccine as quick as possible."