Skip to main content

Rider's Almanac Blog

Bus COVID-19

Buses as mobile vaccine units

Posted by John Komarek | Wednesday, April 21, 2021 12:53:00 PM

Following a trial run to solidify the design, the first two of six Metro Transit buses are out in the community serving as mobile vaccine units. These buses may operate statewide out of regional hubs to provide vaccine access for hard to reach populations across the state.

“We’re proud of Metro Transit, who rolled up their sleeves to retrofit these buses so more Minnesotans can roll up theirs to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said. “And, we’re proud of this collaboration with health officials and the ingenuity of transit staff to create these mobile vaccine units that will provide equitable access to the vaccine across the state.”

These mobile vaccine units will focus on the hardest to reach people, which includes the undocumented, unsheltered, migrant workers, homebound, or people with people with transportation or technology barriers, or speak English as a second language.

Before a seat was removed or a barrier was installed, teams from Bus Maintenance worked with health officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBS) to identify needs to transform a bus into a mobile vaccine unit. Then, the team created a pilot bus to test the specifications before retrofitting more buses. Two retired Metro Mobility buses are also planned to be retrofitted as vaccine units.

Mechanics have removed seats, added plexiglass dividers, created vaccine stations, installed cold storage, and created an onboard after-vaccine observation space. The buses will be equipped with “shore power,” which means they can plug into an external power source when needed to ensure consistent power beyond idling. Tents, canopies, chairs and tables outside of the bus will also be used for observation.

When deployed, BCBS staffs the units with clinicians, translators, and receptionists. MDH guides state planning for implementation. MnDOT provides bus storage locations and technical assistance for planning.

Production of more buses following the design created by this collaboration is currently underway. The buses will operate Monday through Thursday throughout the summer, and each bus will be able to vaccinate about 100 people per day, depending on travel time.

This winter, two of the mobile vaccination units remain in use through the Minnesota Department of Health’s community vaccination program and will be used where indoor spaces are unavailable. The remaining four are in standby at Overhaul Base in case they are needed. For more information about mobile vaccine units, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's website.

By the numbers:

  • From Sept. to Nov. 2021, there have been 55 mobile bus events where approximately 1272 doses were administered. 
  • From April through Aug. 2021, six mobile vaccination units administered over 7,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine during 170 unique clinics in 42 counties across the state. 
  • 94% rate of return for people getting a second dose. 
  • 94% of our community partners reported that the Mobile Vaccination Bus Program provided COVID-19 vaccines to people who otherwise would not have had access. 
  • The two highest groups of vaccinated patients, by age, were patients between ages 18-29 and ages 30-39, each at 23%. People aged 40-49 made up 21% of patients vaccinated, followed by age 50-59 (19%) and age 60-99 (14%).
  • Patients receiving vaccines on board the buses identified as white (34%), Latinx (28%), Asian (16%), Black (12%), Native American (1%), Middle Eastern/North African (1%) or undisclosed (8%).

Vaccine Bus Project