ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Wednesday, Jan. 20, is the first official day of COVID-19 vaccinations at The Pit. People were lined up early Wednesday morning at the iconic arena, ready to get their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. “It’s known throughout the nation and probably across the world as a great sports events center,” said Karen Ellingboe with UNM Health. “Obviously, giving the COVID vaccinations in this center is a historic event.”

For many, the venue brings great memories of games. However, with those in the past, for now, New Mexicans are making new memories as they get their vaccine. “We’ve been involved in taking great care of COVID patients, research and patient care,” said Christina O’Connell with UNM Health. “Now, we’re able to participate in preventing further spread of the pandemic.”

Erik Sterling is in the Air Force and also serves as an educator and works with search and rescue. He says it’s exciting to be a part of the next phase. “It gives us that light at the end of the tunnel that in a few months we could be back to normal,” said Sterling. “It was pretty fast, it was only about 25 minutes from showing up to finishing, and then you have to wait about 10 to 15 minutes after to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction.”

The Pit site, which will run Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is just one of the dozens of sites across the metro and throughout the state. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, more than 150,000 doses have been given. Other sites like Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker show at least 23,000 of those have been second doses.

That means more than 5% of New Mexicans have at least started the vaccination process. The Pit will start off giving around 1,700 doses a day for the first three weeks. “Our plan for the first three weeks is to give first vaccine only,” said Ellingboe. “Then beginning around the second week in February, we’ll then start doing second vaccinations for this first group, but then also the same number of first vaccinations.”

Eventually, that will ramp up to around 3,400 people a day snaking through the concourse for their shot, depending on supply. As for Sterling, this experience has him looking forward to coming back to The Pit when things are normal again. “To go out and see people, more regularly and readily, that’ll be nice, and not be as concerned, once they have the vaccines as well,” said Sterling, who had not been to The Pit yet for a game. “Knowing what the venue looks like, it makes me want to come back and actually see a basketball game.”

Just a reminder, these are not walk-in vaccinations. You must be registered through the NMDOH website and wait for the invitation. With UNM athletic practices set to resume at The Pit, organizers say the vaccine clinics won’t interfere with the teams in any way.