NREL Provides COVID Vaccine Clinics in Alignment with Mission

By Martin Keller, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Director

The mission of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has always been based on community impact. And while this normally means researching ways to make clean energy more affordable and reliable, during the pandemic, we felt we needed to do more.

That’s why the NREL Leadership Team decided to seek U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) approval to partner with Colorado’s Jefferson County Health Department to make the South Table Mountain campus a COVID-19 vaccine dispensary. With the green light from DOE, we began preparing earlier this year for that purpose. Our staff, especially our facilities group, was enthusiastic. They secured the storage units (freezers and refrigerators), obtained hard-to-find supplies, and eventually made themselves available for weekend and early morning staging.

On March 15, we learned that vaccines would become available for our clinic within 48 hours. Our site operations and medical staff, along with volunteers, swung into action as we got word out to families in the surrounding suburban Denver area. During that first three-day hosting period, collaborating with Jefferson County Public Health, our team administered 1,224 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. In all, 783 underserved community members targeted by the county got vaccinations. In addition, 389 NREL staffers along with 52 DOE-Golden Field Office staff who qualified under state guidelines (essential personnel, age 50+ or identified comorbidity, or met workforce criteria) received their vaccines.

Those numbers continued to climb during the following months. Overall, the process went flawlessly.

As our volunteer coordinator told me, “There are a lot of smiles and waving from both the participants and volunteers — everyone seems excited to be a part of the clinics.” I’m estimating our people gave more than a thousand hours of volunteer time. Some Spanish-speaking members of our staff were particularly valuable. “While we were able to communicate in English most of the time, our skills were helpful to those individuals in Jefferson County who could only speak Spanish,” one volunteer told me.

Members of the Colorado National Guard also helped with set-up, check-ins, and medical screening at the entry gates during these COVID-19 vaccine clinics. As a token of NREL’s appreciation, we handed out NREL commemorative coins to some of the Guard members during a recent clinic.

As we head to our final clinic on May 19, we have recorded some impressive numbers. Overall, our clinic has given more than 6,000 doses: 3,758 total first doses (and 3,272 second doses). Those getting vaccinated with first doses included 1,867 members of the community, as well as 1,705 NREL and 186 DOE employees and household members.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported earlier in May that about 45.6% of the population, or 151 million people, have received at least one dose of a vaccine. We are proud to have contributed to that total.

But the vaccine clinic is not the only way NREL supported the community. During this unprecedented time, NREL staffers across the organization found new ways to connect with their communities. As part of the 2020 Annual Giving Campaign, NRELians stepped up and raised a record $616,000 for charities supporting a wide variety of causes. The donations benefit local charities in Denver, Washington D.C., and Alaska, where NREL offices are located.

I’m sharing this now not because I want to toot our horn. Obviously, I’m pleased that so many at NREL have stepped up to engage with members of the community in these unsettled times.

But equally important, I believe, is that we demonstrated our commitment to a better society. We feel grateful to be part of a laboratory system that is without equal in the world. We take great pride in our research. And we want everyone to know that we are committed to ensuring that Americans benefit from our efforts, big and small.

Some may see scientists or researchers as remote, off in an ivory tower, surrounded by complicated laboratory equipment. That’s just not the case. We are members of the community — moms and dads, grandparents and friends — who care deeply about the wellbeing of our neighbors.

At NREL, we envision a better world. And we act upon that vision. We intend that everyone gets to experience the benefits of living in a healthier planet.

From breakthroughs in fundamental science to new clean technologies to integrated energy systems that power our lives, NREL researchers are #TransformingEnergy