The vaccine rollout has been slow and complicated, but you can help. Here’s how people are volunteering

Members of the public put messages in crayons supporting healthcare workers. This sign was on the caregivers walk between the garage and their work at a hospital in Florida. (Photo: courtesy Nurse Marina Bijoy)

For several hours on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, Nina Shapiro chatted with people who had just gotten a coronavirus vaccine.

Shapiro, a surgeon and professor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at UCLA, was volunteering at a mass drive-through vaccination site in Los Angeles County, assessing patients for at least 15 minutes after they received their shots to ensure they felt okay.

Patients waited in their cars, and Shapiro was one of the volunteers watching for any adverse reactions. She said she talked to people about their experience and heard them describe immense relief in finally getting a vaccine. They talked about their concerns, and she helped pass the time.

“I joked around, ‘You’ve waited 11 months, you can wait two more minutes,'” Shapiro told The Washington Post.

She’s one of thousands of volunteers who have signed up across the country to help with local vaccination efforts. There are physicians, like Shapiro, who have signed up to help with clinical tasks, and non-medically trained people who are helping with administrative roles needed at vaccination sites, such as directing traffic and sanitizing chairs. At the mass vaccination site at California State University at Northridge, one of five such sites that opened across Los Angeles County last week, Shapiro estimated there were dozens of volunteers during her day-long shift.

The Post talked to some health workers and non-medically trained people who have volunteered nationwide. This is how the volunteer process is working in at least some states and counties.

– Who can volunteer with vaccination efforts?

Depending on the location, many counties and states are calling on licensed clinical professionals to help with tasks, including vaccine administration, and requesting help from non-medically trained individuals who can handle logistical tasks.

Shapiro told The Post that she heard about volunteering opportunities through the American Academy of Pediatrics and was directed to the Los Angeles County health website requesting volunteers.

She filled out a form. She picked a day and a location where she would be able to volunteer. The form, she said, asked her to provide her medical license number, and she was asked to bring a copy of her medical license on her volunteering day.

She said there was also an option to sign up for non-clinical vaccination roles.

“It was very user-friendly, very intuitive. It wasn’t a clunky process,” she said.

Others have found volunteering opportunities through their colleges or universities.

Leah Roe, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, said she heard about volunteering opportunities through the University of California at San Francisco, where she has a research affiliation. She said she needed an active UCSF identification to sign up.

Roe said she signed up for a non-clinical role and was tasked with getting patients from a waiting area when it was time for their vaccination and bringing them to the health worker administering the shot.

“It’s a huge operation,” Roe said. “There were a lot of non-clinical roles that I can do, that the average person can do.”

– What should you do if you want to volunteer with vaccination efforts in your community?

Check city, county and state health department websites.

The state of New York, for example, is deploying the use of its ServNY volunteer system, which was founded in 2002. All types of volunteers are welcome to sign up, said Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health.

Volunteers who have signed up through ServNY, Bruno said, have been assisting the state’s covid-19 response throughout the pandemic. Now, they are helping with vaccination efforts at county- and state-operated vaccine sites.

In Virginia, those interested in volunteering can sign up through the state’s Medical Reserve Corps program. As of mid-January, the state had more than 800 health-care professionals volunteering to help administer vaccines in various locations, said Erin Beard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health. Beard said more than 2,500 health-care professionals had signed up for the reserve corps in about a month, and there is an ongoing process for getting new volunteers credentialed and trained.

In Orange County in California, the county health department is calling for volunteers to support the growing number of “Points of Distribution,” or POD, sites opening up in the region.

– What can you do if you are an active health worker?

Some health-care workers told The Post that they found opportunities to help with vaccinations within their workplace.

Kate Moore, a physician assistant, said the University of Kentucky’s health system called on providers for volunteer help, and she was able to sign up to administer vaccines at Kroger Field, the university’s football stadium.

Moore, who said she was fully vaccinated at the beginning of January, said she wanted to ensure others in her community got the same opportunity.

“The last thing I want is for vaccines to not be given out because there are not enough personnel to administer them,” Moore told The Post in an email.

Erin Slay, a nurse executive at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, said she has been volunteering on Tuesdays with an program internal to the hospital system.

“It’s something we’ve deployed to all of our employees, clinical or non-clinical, tapping into everybody’s best talents, whether that’s in scheduling, registering folks, speaking to people on the phone who may have questions about vaccines,” Slay said.

Shapiro, who works at UCLA, said she knew help was needed at mass vaccination sites in Los Angeles County, which are administering thousands of shots a day.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said volunteers are essential, especially at such “super POD sites.”

Bartlett said active and retired health professionals are signing up to volunteer, including nursing students, veterinarians, dentists and others. She said the volunteers are screened to ensure their skills match up with needs at vaccination sites.

“The volunteer effort is a really critical component to the success of covid vaccinations and the whole process because we have a limited capacity relative to health-care workers that we can allocate to each of the sites, and we need to augment that with volunteers to really ramp up the process,” Bartlett told The Post.

At the mass vaccination site at Disneyland, for example, she said, a “significant” number of volunteers are helping the process of administering about 5,000-6,000 vaccinations a day.

– What kinds of tasks are volunteers responsible for?

There is a choreography of logistics that occurs at vaccination sites.

In Orange County, health officials are asking for medically trained volunteers who can assist with vaccine preparation and distribution, and calling for general volunteers who can help with administrative tasks. At these “super POD sites,” Bartlett said, volunteers help “with the flow process,” including by registering patients, directing traffic, directing patients from station to station, or monitoring people after they have gotten the vaccine.

Shapiro said that at the Northridge volunteer site, some patients may have been there for a total of 60-90 minutes, from the time they pull into the site, until they drive off post-jab. Volunteers, she said, were needed at all points throughout that process.

The clinical roles in L.A. County include preparing and drawing vaccine, monitoring the vaccine’s temperature, observing people for vaccine reactions, and administering the vaccine itself, according to the county health department’s website. The county’s volunteer shifts are from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., and appropriate personal protective equipment for the volunteer task is provided, according to the site.

When she volunteered at the UCSF clinic, Roe was tasked with being a runner, bringing patients from the waiting area to seats where they received their shots.

Other volunteers, she described, helped with checking in patients, or switching out and sanitizing chairs.

– Any advice from volunteers?

Roe, who said she had been bored with staying at home, said she wanted to volunteer to help out and to get a better idea of what the vaccination process is looking like.

“I think if a person deems it’s safe for themselves, they should definitely do it,” Roe said. “I was wearing PPE, there was good distancing, I felt safe the entire time.”

Moore urged anyone with the “opportunity to volunteer in this effort to take advantage of it.”

“This has been one of the most rewarding and joyful things I have done in my career. Everyone is so excited to be vaccinated and is so appreciative of the opportunity, as well as our work as a health care family,” Moore said.

 

 

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