WINCHESTER — In partnership with Valley Health and the Lord Fairfax Health District, Shenandoah University held a soft opening on Tuesday for a COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center on the university’s main campus.

The site officially opens today by appointment only to residents of the Lord Fairfax Health District, which includes Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page and Warren. Walk-ins will not be accepted. Those eligible to register include people in the first two phases of the state’s vaccine distribution (Phase 1A and Phase 1B).

The local health district and Valley Health are currently prioritizing distribution of COVID-19 vaccine to those age 75 and older; police, fire and emergency personnel; corrections and homeless shelter workers, and childcare and K-12 teachers and staff.

Vaccines are free to recipients, and health insurance is not required.

Those who are eligible may register and schedule an appointment at The site went live on Tuesday, and appointments quickly filled up through Friday.

Valley Health also is working to set up a phone number that people can call to register, but it was not ready by Tuesday afternoon.

About 300 people received the first of two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the mass vaccination site’s soft opening on Tuesday.

“We are literally on track to save lives in the Northern Shenandoah Valley,” SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons said during a news conference.

Valley Health aims to distribute between 1,200 to 1,500 vaccines daily at the 77,000-square-foot athletics facility, located at 1188 Ralph Shockey Drive. The clinic will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, depending on available supplies.

People who are registered will be given a specific time and date for their appointment.

Those who do not live in the Lord Fairfax Health District and wish to get vaccinated are encouraged to ask their local health department for details on receiving a COVID-19 shot.

After receiving the vaccine, recipients must wait about 15 minutes for observation and any immediate side effects.

Overall, the soft opening went smoothly for those who received their first round of vaccine.

James R. Wilkins Jr., namesake of the athletics facility, was one of the first people to get his shot on Tuesday. He said he never imagined that the facility would be used as a mass vaccination site during a pandemic. He said the clinic ran smoothly.

The previous day, the community’s first mass public vaccination hosted by health department officials was held at the Boyce fire hall in Clarke County. The clinic was for those age 75 and older. Response was so great that there were long lines, and people had to wait outside in the cold. A second clinic scheduled for Friday has been moved from the fire hall to Clarke County High School in Berryville, health department officials announced Tuesday evening. It will be held from 8 a.m. to noon. The high school is located at 627 Mosby Blvd.

Matthew Reames, a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher at Daniel Morgan Intermediate School in Winchester, was among those who received a vaccination on Tuesday.

“It’s a big relief,” Reames said, adding that it has been a long nine months since the pandemic began, particularly because he lives by himself. “It means that maybe in a couple months I might be able to hug my parents again.”

Willa Banks, 72, of Winchester, also received her first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday. She lost a cousin to COVID-19 in March. She learned about the opportunity to get vaccinated at the SU site through her church, Mt. Carmel Baptist.

Banks encouraged other community members to get vaccinated when possible.

“They need to have the respect for other people around them as far as getting the shot and wearing their mask,” Banks said. “Don’t be ignorant about the whole thing. It’s not just about you, it’s about the community.”

Valley Health and the local health district are opening three other points of distribution (PODs) for COVID-19 vaccines. Locations are set to open today in the Warren County Health Department Gymnasium at 465 W. 15th St. in Front Royal, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, North Lobby, at 759 S. Main St. in Woodstock and Page Memorial Hospital, Main Lobby, at 200 Memorial Drive in Luray.

— Contact Anna Merod at