A report from the vaccination front line
by Abby Brill
I am not old enough to qualify to be vaccinated for Covid, nor am I as of yet on any upcoming list, as I am neither a caregiver nor an essential worker. I am invisible and would likely have to wait several more months to get my shot, but I’m in a hurry. There are others around me to consider and also those dear to me whom I want to protect, so I was intrigued when I heard about an opportunity to volunteer at a vaccination site and get my shot after my shift.
There are many places where you can get vaccinated now, and the opportunities will increase as the new administration’s efforts to defeat the pandemic begin to take effect. Spectrum Healthcare is holding vaccination clinics at two locations in Prescott Valley and two in Cottonwood. Spectrum’s program is unique in that it uses volunteers, for which I am profoundly grateful.
I first heard about the opportunity via Facebook, where a friend posted the contact information for Spectrum Health. I registered on its site for a specific job on February 3 at the Findlay Toyota Center. When I showed up at 6:45, they couldn’t find me on the list of volunteers for that day (I’m pretty sure I neglected to click on something or hit “submit”), but after everyone had been signed in, they said they could use me as an observer. Among the many volunteer jobs, this was one that, while easy, still demanded some computer skills. I spent almost nine hours there helping people get vaccinated against this awful disease, and have scarcely spent a more meaningful day.
Spectrum runs its vaccination clinic with calm professionalism. When you show up for your appointment you first register at the front desk, then go to get your shot, then check in with an observer, who sets up the appointment for the second shot. Finally, you go sit down and chill for 15 minutes while the observers keep an eye on whether you’re having any adverse reaction to the shot, after which you can go home. The whole process shouldn’t take more than half an hour.
Since the inauguration of the new administration the president has engaged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help roll out the vaccine for Covid. FEMA provides boots on the ground when there is a natural disaster, like a hurricane or wildfire. They are well trained and well funded, so they know what they’re doing and they can move fast. The site where I volunteered had five FEMA workers who worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, although they do get a rare Sunday off to catch up on laundry and other personal chores.
I was trained for my observer job by Janet from Puerto Rico, who has been with FEMA for years and loves her job. She said FEMA workers normally are sent to a location for a couple of months at a time. The vaccination assignment is a special project for them, but it makes total sense to have FEMA involved in this effort.
FEMA has contracts with first-responders, who are already equipped to get into rural areas, including tribal lands. It has requested that the Pentagon provide up to 10,000 troops to speed up the process. Evidence has shown, for instance in Israel, that a rapid, thorough and coordinated effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible as quickly as possible, combined with commonsense mask-wearing and distancing from others, is the most effective way to slow down and eventually stop the spread of Covid. FEMA has the tools to do that.
Scott Evans is the Spectrum leader at the arena. He and his team worked seamlessly with the FEMA workers. He greeted us when we arrived and briefed us on where our workstations would be and our trainers/supervisors. The volunteer jobs included greeter, registration, vaccinator, disinfector, pharmacy and observer.
Most jobs require minimal or no computer skills, but the vaccinators must have some healthcare background, such as nursing or paramedic training. I had a chance to speak with a number of the volunteers throughout the day and though it was a long day, every person I spoke with was so glad to have spent it getting people vaccinated. One woman, a nurse who had recently retired and moved to Prescott from California, said she had rarely spent such a meaningful day.
Another vaccinator, Heidi Hampton, has returned several times to volunteer even though she’d had her shot. A trained paramedic with a background in theatre, Heidi keeps coming back just to be of service and because it’s really fun working with a team like this. Her upbeat mood and great humor set people at ease and help make the long day flow.
As the vaccination process ramps up, perhaps the need for volunteers will diminish, but I am grateful for the experience I had through Spectrum and would recommend it to others. Spending a day with this amazing team was a whole heck of a lot better than sitting at home wishing I could be out living my normal life. Getting folks vaccinated will help bring back that normal life sooner than not.
Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.