Coronavirus: Area volunteer effort helping drive COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Credit: Eileen McClory

Caption
Hundreds of volunteers are helping with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, playing a vital roll in the process.

Credit: Eileen McClory

Hundreds of community members have been giving their time to help with the historic COVID-19 vaccine rollout, volunteering to direct traffic, answer phones, administer the shots and more.

Tammy Lowe, an RN and Preble County volunteer, said it has been rewarding to give vaccinations to older residents who are lonely and looking forward to getting out again.

“They might thank me several times and then I’m always saying ‘no, thank you for coming and getting your vaccine,’” said Lowe, who also teaches at Sinclair Community College.

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As of Friday afternoon, about 13.5% of Ohioans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is about 1.57 million people.

This massive rollout in a little over two months has been made possible with the help of hundreds of volunteers, both non-medical and medical backgrounds, from students to retirees to dentists and veterinarians.

Several health department officials said vaccination clinics wouldn’t have been the same without the assistance.

“The impact that the volunteers are doing is instrumental in saving lives, preventing hospitalizations, preventing deaths,” said Don Brannen, community epidemiologist with Greene County Public Health.

Even before the vaccines, volunteers had been helping out different departments with different tasks like contact tracing, pop-up testing, community support efforts and more.

All county health departments throughout the west central Ohio region, which includes Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, and Shelby counties, as well as most counties throughout the state, have Ohio Medical Reserve Corp. volunteer programs, which coordinates the bulk of volunteers.

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For those volunteers, there’s a online training as well as an additional free training for people administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Brannen said their volunteers rolls have grown to over 500 people now, and have been helping even before vaccines with important services, such as volunteers Cecilia Bidigare and Vickie Carraher who he said made a big different with summer test collection.

Carraher, a nurse who got involved in public health volunteering after she lost her home in the Xenia tornado, said she can use her experience and what she’s gone through to help other people through other traumatic events. In this case, particularly helping older residents who are scared and overwhelmed during the pandemic.

“You’re helping your neighbors. You’re helping your friends,” Carraher said.

Lowe said she has always been a big believer in volunteering and in encouraging her students to volunteer, and also likes that they can help other Preble County residents get vaccines close to home instead of having to travel to a farther away city.

“I am a firm believer in vaccines and vaccinations and that they do save lives, so I knew all along once the vaccine for COVID was developed, passed by the FDA or approved by the FDA and available, that I would be volunteering at the clinics to be able to help save lives,” Lowe said. “And I truly believe this vaccine has already done and will continue to do that.”

Kyle Trout, communications coordinator for the Clark County Combined Health District, said without volunteers the health district’s vaccination clinics, which currently has the compacity to give up to 1,000 doses a day, would be “much smaller, would run much slower and would not be able to provide the level of care that the CCCHD prides itself on.”

Dr. Catherine Crompton, trustee for the Community Health Foundation and former president of the CCCHD’s board of health, agreed with Trout. She said when she saw how smoothly the county’s clinics were running, she too stepped up to volunteer.

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“The reason it’s so well organized is because of all the volunteers and all of the efforts everyone is putting in here. Putting in to be a part of the solution, and hopefully, it’s our ticket to freedom,” Crompton said.

Champaign County Health commissioner Gabe Jones said the staff at the health district is small and has been stretched thin since the pandemic began nearly a year ago.

“We are extremely grateful for anyone who has helped us not only at our clinics but also behind the scenes,” Jones said. “There is a ton of work that goes into everything we do and with such a small staff we able to do a lot more with the volunteers who help us.”

How to volunteer

The Ohio Responds Volunteer Registry is the state of Ohio’s online system for managing public health and healthcare professionals who wish to volunteer.

Ohio is currently recruiting volunteers to assist with the COVID-19 vaccinations. Physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy interns, emergency medical technicians, dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, respiratory care professionals, and veterinarians are encouraged to volunteer.

To sign up or for more information go to ohioresponds.odh.ohio.gov