COVID-19 Vaccination: The Inside Story of a Nurse Vaccinator

COVID-19 Vaccination: The Inside Story of a Nurse Vaccinator

Recently, I began volunteering to give COVID-19 vaccinations at a drive-through mass vaccination site in Connecticut. 

Currently my job consists of writing and teaching as a faith community nurse and Minister of Health and Wellness for SNEUCC, not much “hands on nursing task.” 
In years past I managed flu vaccine clinics for the towns surrounding the home care agency where I worked. Giving injections is second nature for me now. We would vaccinate people one by one at churches, senior centers, schools and other community organizations. Scheduling two or three hours at a time, people could come as they choose without appointments. Sometimes we would have two nurses, and sometimes one who would vaccinate 10 to 80 people. We were busy, but there was time to sit a bit periodically to rest our feet. 

So, helping to give vaccinations at a clinic should not be much different right?  
Okay, managing the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is not as simple as the flu vaccine. My vaccinator training reviewed each vaccine, vaccine administration programs in general, and CDC guidelines.  I learned about the process, but as a volunteer I am grateful I do not have to perform that part of the job. We learned about the Vaccine Administration Management Systems, fondly called VAMS, which many know brings people to the depths of frustration as they try to navigate registration and find an appointment. VAMS is also the system used at the COVID vaccine clinics to document vaccinations.  It can be quick as a wink, or not! VAMS has more ways to find a person with an appointment than I could ever imagine. Each shift teaches me a new method. Vaccinators have to be very flexible and patient in mind, body and spirit!  
My fellow vaccinators are nurses, National Guard medics, EMTs, pharmacists and doctors, volunteers and paid staff. All have stepped up to give what they can to end the pandemic. Wearing many layers of clothing, jacketsyellow safety vests and carpenter tool belts, we pick up our tablets, strap them around our shoulders and approach each vehicle to check in and verify the person does not have any reason to defer vaccination. Then we go to the trailer, get the vaccine dose, band aidalcohol wipe, gauze and vaccination card before we proceed back to the car juggling all the necessary supplies to administer the vaccine through the car window, up over the window of cars, SUVs and trucks

You may have already experienced this process for your vaccine. For the vaccinator this takes getting used to; maybe having three hands would help. It feels like a juggling act. Sometimes there are three or four passengers in one vehicle; many of these folks used the state vaccination help line to get appointments together. Fortunately, the people waiting are patient, friendly and grateful. They are happy the vaccine is available.  
My eight-hour shifts go quickly! People getting vaccinated are so happy, many bring treats to express their gratitude to all who are working to distribute the vaccine. They are grateful for the organization keeping the process efficient. One day a car battery died when the vehicle was at the front of the line. No worries though, the National Guard brought over a portable battery charger and had the car on its way in minutes!  
I am grateful for the people who put so much effort into the logistics of these operations, those who coordinate the staffing, supplies, maintenance, ordering traffic flow, translation services and more! It is a herculean task. The mass vaccination sites are a beautiful example of collaboration between federal, state, community organizations and individuals. The workers share love and compassion each and every day.  
As I work alongside my colleagues in the trailer, I have learned a few tips that might be helpful to you or someone you know.  
  1. Wear short sleeves under your warm layers to make the top of your arm ready for a shot.  
  1. Make sure to bring your vaccination card with you when you go for the second dose. 
  1. Be prepared for a few days of potential flu like symptoms which range from nothing or a sore arm, to fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, or nausea, especially after the second dose. This is your body building an immune response should you encounter COVID-19.  
  1. Moving your arm around and drinking plenty of water can ease the symptoms.  
  1. Keep your vaccination card with you. You can take a picture and store it on your phone. 
  1. Don’t laminate your card in case we need to add a booster vaccination. It will need to be written on the card.  
  1. Some vaccination clinics have a wait list you can sign up for. Wait listed people are notified at the end of the day if there are extra doses ready to be administered before they reach their use before time.  
Don’t delay. When you are eligible for the vaccine, sign up, and get the vaccine that is available to you.  The sooner we get most people vaccinated, the sooner we will be able to gather more safely. Be patient because it may take time to get your appointment. Keep trying.  
So, while I rest now with my feet up, I can reflect on the people I saw loving each other, loving their neighbor and loving themselves by signing up, lining up and receiving their shot with smiles on their faces and words of gratitude. It fills my heart to be part of serving my neighbor in this way.  
May you stay safe, and stay well. Get vaccinated and keep wearing your mask when out in public.  


Deborah Ringen

Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.

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