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Metro, News

Students receive COVID-19 vaccines after volunteering at clinics

To avoid wasting soon-to-expire doses, vaccine clinics in Providence have vaccinated some student volunteers

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Some University students are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine after volunteering with local clinics, despite projections from the Rhode Island Department of Health that people aged 16-39 will not be eligible for the vaccine until early June

These volunteers have assumed responsibilities including intaking patients, scheduling first-time recipients for the second dose, providing translation support, screening clinic-goers for symptoms and assisting in other non-medical administrative duties, Providence City spokesperson Ben Smith wrote in an email to The Herald.

Due to the vaccine’s limited shelf life, clinics are required to administer or dispose of remaining doses before they expire. Thus, while clinic volunteers are not guaranteed vaccines, they may receive them if there are extra shots at the end of the day, Smith added, but only after the administrators have contacted those on the waitlist.  

All volunteers who get the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are immediately assigned a date for their second dose, Smith wrote, though he “strongly discouraged” students from volunteering with the sole intent of getting vaccinated due to low supply and their intent to “prioritize the most vulnerable.”

Upon hearing that a friend was vaccinated after volunteering at a clinic, Anna Park ’23 and Ashley Chon ’23 followed an Eventbrite link to sign up to volunteer in a 6:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. shift with the Providence Emergency Management Agency. “The spots fill up pretty fast,” Park said. “One of my friends tried to sign up a minute after (we did), and she couldn’t get a slot.”

After arriving at the clinic, Chon was assigned the task of registering people, while Park was responsible for checking on those who had just received the vaccine to ensure that they were not having allergic reactions or demonstrating side effects. At the end of their shifts, Chon and Park were given shots from the clinic’s extra supply of doses and were provided appointment dates for the second dose.

Veronica Espaillat ’21, who also learned of this volunteer opportunity through friends, secured a spot through a phone conversation with a PEMA Preparedness Coordinator. Because Espaillat’s fluency in Spanish helped meet the organization’s demand for volunteers who could assist Spanish-speaking residents, she was assigned a shift the following day.

The chance to get vaccinated factored into Espaillat’s decision to sign up for her roughly five hour shift. “We’re very busy college students,” Espaillat said. “I don’t think I would have gone for as long of a period … (without) the incentive of getting the vaccine.” 

During her shift, Espaillat spent her time checking in residents to the clinic, many of whom spoke Spanish. Because many other Brown seniors were also volunteering at the clinic, she enjoyed being able to reconnect with friends she hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic while also being able to serve the community.

Another vaccine recipient, Alyscia Batista ’23, began volunteering at the Rhode Island Free Clinic, which provides medical care to uninsured patients, one month before the University sent students home due to COVID-19 in early 2020.

After relocating, Batista has spent the past two semesters volunteering for the RIFC’s telehealth service as an over-the-phone medical interpreter, translating between Spanish and English in order to facilitate communication between patients and physicians.

After a year of volunteering, a clinic administrator called her one day asking if she’d be willing to arrive in the next 30 minutes to receive one of the clinic’s extra doses.

Batista was surprised, but over the course of the pandemic she had “hoped for” an opportunity to get vaccinated.

 Park, who assumed she wouldn’t be vaccinated for a couple months, did not register how “surreal” the experience was until after she left the clinic. “I didn’t realize how much (getting vaccinated) would shock me,” Park said. “It just felt so strange.”

As of Tuesday, March 16, 21.4 percent of Providence residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Batista expressed frustration with the state’s management of the vaccine rollout. For example, Rhode Island had not introduced a state-run registration portal until Feb. 17 after eligible Rhode Islanders reported difficulties figuring out how to book appointments, she said. 

While Batista is glad that she now has the chance to work face-to-face with patients at her clinic, she believes that the state should direct outreach efforts to those who are more high-risk for the virus than the general population. 

“They need it way more than I,” Batista said. “For them, it’s life or death.”

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