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UMBC students are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Photo provided by Francis Amankwah.

UMBC students discuss working at COVID-19 vaccine sites

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced on April 5 that all Maryland residents aged 16 and older would become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine the following day. Increased vaccine eligibility means an increased demand for vaccine workers. Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County are stepping up to fill these roles at Maryland vaccination sites.

Senior biology, Russian and Spanish majors Maithily Diaz volunteers at the Baltimore M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site. Her duties include helping people navigate their way through the 1.6 million square foot stadium and offering translation services to the many Spanish-speaking patients. She also helps with appointment check-ins and with noting any allergies or existing health conditions. Diaz said that the pre- and post-vaccine process at the stadium is more extensive than the jab itself.

“The vaccine itself is super easy, super-duper tiny and feels like nothing … but [patients] still have to go through the entire stadium. They have to check-in, we have to know if they have any previous conditions, and the nurses can’t do that. So really we’re there to fill in for those kinds of things,” explained Diaz.

Senior biology major Francis Amankwah works as an insurance biller at a nursing home that gives the COVID-19 vaccine to residents. While Amankwah never actually administered the vaccine himself, he said that the training process was still helpful.

“[My team] was authorized to practice among ourselves with saline to feel more comfortable in giving the actual vaccine to the patient,” he explained.

Working in the nursing home, continued Amankwah, allowed him to “kill two birds with one stone” because it provided him with clinical experience that will be useful when he goes to medical school.

Senior pre-nursing Health Administration and Policy major Edom Leul works at Walgreens as a pharmacy technician. His duties include checking patients in for their appointment and processing their insurance information. Unlike Amankwah, Leul stated that his vaccine training process did not go smoothly.

“We were thrown into the situation without any training. I got a quick rundown about how to process a vaccine with our first customer already waiting in line to receive his shot,” he explained. “It was nerve-wracking but I eventually caught on.”

Leul loves helping people and described his job as “rewarding,” but working at a hybrid store and vaccination site quickly became overwhelming as everyday Walgreens customers and vaccine patients crowded phone lines, the pharmacy and waiting lines.

“It’s a madhouse!” said Leul. “I have not been able to balance my school life with my work life. If we don’t get things done, they’ll be sitting there waiting for us tomorrow while all the new tasks start to pile up.”

Diaz agreed that vaccination sites are often hectic environments. Nonetheless, she said that seeing increased numbers of people receiving vaccines is still a rewarding task. In a typical 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. day, she said that her site received nearly 6,000 patients.

Diaz was adamant that everyone who is able should register for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Everybody should be getting it. There’s just no reason to not get it. There are appointments, fill them up, please. I will help you get to the nurse’s station myself,” she concluded.

To learn more about volunteering at Maryland vaccination sites, visit: https://www.givepulse.com/group/482016-State-of-Maryland-COVID-19-Vaccination-Site-Student-Volunteer-Program.

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