Ladies and Gentlemen, you don't need me to tell you it's been a long, hard, year. Thankfully, the vaccine is rolling out, giving us hope that we won't have to hear the words "social distancing" "mask up" and "quarantine" for too much longer. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a vaccine clinic and I've had some people ask me about the experience. I figured I'd make it a blog post as I hope this information will help others who are looking to get a vaccine or find a way to help out. I discovered that my county was offering vaccines for volunteers who would work at a clinic for two full days. (7am-4:30pm in my case.) For your work, you'd also be able to receive your first and second dose. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, the actual sign up process is like a lottery. As volunteer spots appeared on the health department website, they were immediately snatched up. More than once, I was filling out my application and by the time I hit "submit" someone else had beaten me to it and the spot was no longer available. So it was definitely a frustrating process trying to A) find an available volunteer slot B) be quick enough to book it. The stars aligned for me on a Wednesday morning. I was scrolling the site and happened to find a date listed instead of the standard "No appointments available." I leaped into action filling out the form with pounding heart, knowing I was racing against however many others were also browsing the site at that moment. By the time I hit submit, the spot was gone. I felt crushed! But, for some reason, I decided to refresh the page and I was stunned to find that another '1 spot available' showed up. I raced even faster to get that form filled out and actually yelled in disbelief and excitement when a confirmation screen popped up. I'd gotten it! I was going to get a vaccine! After that reality started to sink it, I realized, in my excitement, I hadn't even bothered to note what day and location I'd selected. So I checked that and found that my appointment was bright and early the following morning. I needed to report for duty at 7am...at a location that was a 35 minute drive. (I'm not a morning person, but this was a very motivating reason to get up and go.) I received a confirmation email with vague information. I'd need to bring a lunch and water because I'd get a 30 minute lunch break and "short breaks" throughout the day. As for what I'd actually be doing all day, it said, "Duties will include greeting, patient registration, station assistants, and post-vaccination monitoring." So I made sure my best-fitting mask was clean, packed myself a lunch, filled up a water bottle and hoped for the best. I arrived at 7:04 feeling a little sheepish that I was late to such an important event. What I realized after I walked in was that I needed to relax. I had a good 15-20 minutes of waiting around until the event coordinator got up to address us and let us know what was going on. She explained what one of the jobs was and then asked for 6 people to fill that role for the day. Once filled, she explained the next role, so on down the list until she had all the duties assigned. Then we all proceeded to designated tables that had a list of our duties and a plastic vest to designate we were working the event. (I have to add that my vest was probably made for a 3XL man and kept slipping off one shoulder. I was not trying to rock the Flashdance look. The thing just didn't fit.) Vests for each group were color coded so we could easily identify each other, so no, I couldn't switch to a better fitting vest. All the colored vests for our position were huge. Oh well. I ended up in the "station assistant" role. I got to be in one of the vaccination rooms. When we got into it, we discovered that no vaccine cards had been prepared and we needed to handwrite some ASAP. (They were anticipating 1500 people for vaccinations!) We each took a stack of cards and starting filling in the date, the manufacturer of the vaccine and the number. Flip the card over and write the return date for dose 2. Done. We got to work on that for about 40 minutes before the doors opened for the vaccinations to begin. The vaccinators walked in and I was surprised to see a line of men and women in uniform. I hadn't realized that the National Guard medics would be administering the vaccine. Seeing them come in and take their places really hit me that this was a big deal. Although the pandemic is a global crisis, it's also a national emergency and our men and women were showing up to help. It made me feel like I was getting a chance to help too at a unique historic moment. That's when my mindset shifted from "I can't believe I'm going to get a vaccine today" to "I get to help people receive their vaccine today and support our troops while they do this important work." Wow. What an experience!
As the first people started walking in, duties needed to shift. Someone needed to monitor the room and wipe down the seats with disinfecting wipes in between vaccinations. Even though I'm good at writing cards fast, I offered to do the wiping. No one else in the group objected. Talk about a job that keeps you hopping. There were 5 medics administering vaccines in our room and I got to carry around a canister of wipes and keep an eye on all 5 stations to be sure to wipe down the chairs before the next person stepped up to get their shot. While I was busy running around doing that, I didn't notice that the rest of my team was still sitting at the tables filling out cards, unwrapping bandaids and syringes so the medics could just grab them and keep moving rather than fiddling with packaging in between patients. I stayed on wiping duty until lunch break, then a fresh volunteer took my place. When I returned from lunch I got to continue filling out vaccine cards and opening syringes. I'd also periodically stroll around the room and make sure the medics weren't running out of any supplies. A little after lunch, things slowed down a bit so the volunteer coordinator came around and asked if we'd like to get our vaccines. Let's just say, she didn't have to ask me twice! I overheard many of the people saying they were very anxious about receiving the vaccine and how they might react so I'm going to mention my experience with that too. I walked up and asked the medic if it was sort of like the flu shot, how they say you should use your arm a lot to help stave off soreness. He said yes, so I opted for my dominant arm. It was a very easy poke, felt like the needle was super small because I barely noticed it go in. Slapped on a band-aid and I was good to go. That was it. When I got home, I took off the band-aid and that hurt more than getting the shot. By the time I went to bed, my arm was slightly sore at the injection point. Honestly, I've had more soreness from flu shots. Those make me feel like I've been punched in the arm. This did not feel like that at all. I'm writing this about 20 hours post vaccination and I still have a little mild soreness but nothing that prevents me from doing what I need to do. I know everyone reacts differently and that my experience doesn't mean others will have the same, but I just wanted to mention what happened to me...which is, thankfully, very little. Post-vaccination, I relieved the wiper while she went to get her vaccine, then I went back to opening syringes because she wanted to keep wiping. That's how I filled my day as a station assistant. It was a very busy day and I was so happy/tired at the end of it. I will have another day of volunteering on the day I get my second dose. I'm not sure if I'll stick with the same job I already did or if I'll try one of the other positions. Overall, it was a fulfilling way to spend a day and I'm really glad that I got to be part of it. If you would like to volunteer at a vaccine clinic in your area, I recommend checking the website for your local health department to see what they have available. Don't give up trying to schedule an appointment. If it's anything like my local health department website, it was stressful and frustrating, but I can't describe the sense of relief and excitement that comes over you when you finally succeed. And then when you get to the clinic and see the hundreds of faces, real people, so many more people than you've seen in the past year, and they're relieved and so grateful to get their shot, or they're fearful and you see people comforting them, or you yourself get to help comfort or distract them from the shot, wow. What a way to connect to humanity again. We're going to be all right. We're getting through this. We still have a drive to help each other and be there for one another. It's happening. One step at a time, one vaccine clinic at a time.