I was lucky enough to get vaccinated early in the process, getting my second dose of Moderna on February 19th. At the time, that was the only vaccine being offered in Maryland and vaccines were not at retail pharmacies yet. Since that time, the opportunities to get vaccinated in my state, and nationwide, have expanded considerably, with multiple avenues to get the vaccine. But, one of the issues continues to be STAFFING the sites.
I decided that once my 2nd dose kicked in, that I would sign up to the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps, which allows you to be called up as either a medical or a civilian to assist with statewide initiatives in response to a bunch of situations, including vaccinations, disasters, etc. For those who want to learn more, visit this site.
My background is not in medical at all, so I am signed up as a civilian with other skills. It took a few weeks to go through the application process, complete 5 virtual trainings and get approved. Once I was approved, the opportunities to volunteer opened up at a rapid clip. I was getting multiple emails a day with sign ups all over my county for both COVID testing sites and COVID vaccine sites.
I ran it by my boss and was approved to take off as much time as I wanted to volunteer at the vaccine sites, so I decided one half day a week was my plan. Last Friday was my first volunteer session and I want to share with you guys my experience. First of all, I was at a large mass vaxxination site in upper Montgomery County, MD. Upon arriving, I was directed to a large parking lot by a very nice police officer. Everyone was smiling, energized and really excited to be there. I did not know anyone, but felt like I belonged and was a welcome part of the team. Upon entering the facility, my temperature was taken and I was directed to the clipboard to sign in. I was asked if I was a medical or civilian volunteer and then directed to the correct room for orientation.
The orientation and welcome meeting was in a large auditorium with folding chairs separated by the standard 6 feet. About half of the room was filled with uniformed volunteers - evenly split between fatigue wearing National Guard (I think) and Fire and Rescue in their navy blue uniform. The rest of the room was filled with regular old Maryland civilians like myself, in our jeans, sweats and khakis. The medical staff appeared to be in another room.
We were given a brief welcome speech, explanation of how the process would run, a run down of the vaccines that would be given that day (2nd dose of Moderna and J&J only) as well as the number of people expected (roughly 3,000). We were then given a chance to ask questions, which was really helpful. We were thanked for giving up our personal time to help with this initiative and then we split off into a few groups (newbies, return volunteers, etc). I was part of the newbies, so we were given a great walking tour of the facility, from the front door all the way to the resting area post vaccination. Basically we walked the route a patient would walk through.
As posts were described, we were able to select what we felt would be the best fit for our skills and our energy level. Some jobs required a lot of standing, others were primarily sitting. I chose to do a position called "Flow" which means I was helping move the line alone, crowd control and general logistics. I was the bouncer at the end of the line that sent people to different registration desks - part stand up comedy (keeping the crowd laughing and happy) and school teacher ("everyone needs to stay in line, 6 feet apart and against the left wall!"). In total, I probably interacted with 1,200 - 1,400 people in the 4 hours I was there. Everyone seemed happy and excited, although a few people seemed nervous, as expected.
Overall, I LOVED the experience. I felt like I was doing something good for my community and I did not feel like my personal health was at risk. I was fully vaccinated, everyone was masked, there was TONS of hand sanitizer and fresh air due to the size of the space. The patients were calm and the mood was optimistic and celebratory. I will continue to do this once a week for a few months, or until the need for volunteers drops.
My message to our readers is this: If you are (1) fully vaccinated, (2) physically able and (3) emotionally able, I would encourage you to consider signing up to volunteer at a clinic in your area. The risks are incredibly low, there are a lot of opportunities for non-medical positions (flow, registration, parking lot direction, etc) and it really does feel like you are doing something for the greater good.
Oh, and you get to wear cool vests (mine was bright Shamrock green!).