I volunteered at a COVID-19 vaccination site

| April 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

DR. BARBARA FERRER, working in the post-vaccination observation area at The Forum.

In February, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a COVID-19 vaccination site through the Medical Reserve Corps of Los Angeles (MRCLA). The experience was rewarding on many levels and helped me to see the impressive inner workings of our public healthcare system.

I wanted to volunteer because, after a year of living in suspended animation, I needed to do something. I also wanted to get the vaccine. I had heard that you could get the shot if you volunteered, so (admittedly) that was a driving factor. However, it was clear that shots are only given to volunteers if supplies allow. I knew that it wasn’t a guarantee, yet, as the day drew nearer, I became more and more excited to see this historic operation unfold and be a part of it.

Friends’ experiences

A lot of my excitement was kindled by friends’ anecdotes about their own experiences. A doctor friend had volunteered and witnessed first-hand the sheer relief people felt to finally get vaccinated. Another (non-doctor and non-clinical) friend volunteered at a church in Inglewood. After a day stationed as a greeter, she felt energized and hopeful because of helping others and being useful, not to mention social (in a safe way). I also had heard a particularly moving episode of public radio’s “This American Life,” detailing the reactions of people getting their vaccines. Everyone described the experience of witnessing this emotion as heartwarming and invigorating. I was inspired.

My first step was to apply for membership with the MRCLA and then, once accepted, sign up to volunteer with Disaster Healthcare Volunteers of California. Once you get approved for that, you take a survey indicating which date(s) and mega-pod(s) you prefer. I chose The Forum and anxiously awaited my deployment.

The day at The Forum

When my day came, I arrived at The Forum at 7:30 a.m. All of the check-in details, from staff parking to waiver forms and temperature checks, went as described in the e-mail I had received confirming my deployment. I joined the other volunteers in a tented area where coffee and refreshments were served while we awaited our assignments. Some were sent to traffic control, some to computer systems / management, and many to the observation area. That was where I was stationed for the day. Before leaving for our respective areas, all of the volunteers were asked who wanted a vaccine. Of the 100+ volunteers, about 15 raised their hands.

During my time in the observation area, my co-volunteers and I monitored people during the 15-minute waiting period (between the time they received the vaccine until the time they were cleared to drive off). We were told to look for anyone who wasn’t feeling well or was having trouble breathing, at which point we would flag one of the doctors who had been pointed out to us during our briefing. I didn’t come across anyone who had any medical trouble. People were happy to be checked on and many pleasantries were exchanged. I was encouraged and happy to see many teachers coming through the line that day.

Just there to help

I liked the energy of the group that I was working with: doctors, nurses, a former NASA engineer (we bonded over our mutual interest in a little-known but very good show called “Strange Angel,” about rocket engineering at Cal Tech in the late 1930s). As with my friends mentioned above, many had already been vaccinated. They weren’t in it for the shots — they were just there to help.

Boston connection

Two of the volunteers that I got to work alongside all day (our shift ended after the last appointment around 5 p.m.) happened to be none other than Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and her daughter. I had fangirled enough to know that Dr. Ferrer had a connection to my hometown of Boston. While Ferrer was born and raised in Puerto Rico, she raised her own two children in Boston, and her kids and I went to the same high school. I introduced myself and found her to be a completely familiar character: brilliant, warm, a devoted public servant. Even her clothes reminded me of growing up in Boston in the 1990s, albeit with a modern spin. I remarked on how well organized everything was, and she was in total agreement, praising the staff at The Forum and all of the other County pods (where she also had volunteered her time). We shot the breeze as much as we could, but ultimately we were there to work. Whenever I glanced in her direction during the day, she was engaging people in their cars. She never tired. Watching her made me feel more connected to my home, more connected to grass roots organization and service. I limped to my car at the end of the day, shot in arm, fulfilled.

In mid-March, I returned to The Forum to receive my second shot. My family and I were having old friends for an outdoor lunch that day, and my husband was perplexed at the timing of things. He thought I could be stuck in line at The Forum for hours and was worried I wouldn’t make it home in time for the luncheon. I was in and out at The Forum in 20 minutes. I didn’t see Dr. Ferrer, but I saw some of the other volunteers I worked with, and I thanked them for helping … and for helping me.

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Category: People

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