© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines administered to Indianapolis health professionals
By Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. states facing a backlog of coronavirus vaccine administrations are asking medical and nursing students and even firefighters to help deliver the shots and free health care workers battling a violent pandemic in overcrowded hospitals .
At least seven state health departments are looking for volunteers for their vaccination sites, some of which are partnering with local universities or nursing schools to offer incentives such as tuition discounts and hands-on training. Others teach first responders to manage shots.
The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is the best hope for ending a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 320,000 Americans and paralyzed the US economy.
This month, U.S. regulators approved the first two COVID-19 vaccines, one from drug manufacturers Pfizer Inc (NYSE 🙂 and BioNTech SE (NASDAQ 🙂 and another from Modern (NASDAQ 🙂 Inc.
As of Wednesday, nearly 10 million doses have been delivered across the country, but only approx. 1 million are administered due to lack of staff in hospitals and the special requirements for preparation of the shots. The slow pace of the vaccination campaign threatens the federal government’s goal of inoculating nearly 20 million people by the end of the year.
While inoculation is currently focused on frontline healthcare professionals, the vaccination drive is expected to expand to tens of thousands of key industrial workers beginning in January or February.
From New York to Tennessee, states hope medical and nursing students will free up medical staff with a focus on caring for the record number of new COVID-19 patients.
“Being able to staff vaccination clinics with volunteers from our reserve workforce means that staff at the vaccination sites can continue to perform their normal tasks, which is crucial as our hospitalization rate has increased,” said a spokeswoman for Indiana University’s School of Medicine.
‘STRIKE BACK TO COVID’
When the first vaccines arrived, health officials at Indiana State University called because of its far-reaching campuses. More than 630 of Indiana University’s medical and nursing students have signed up to volunteer and receive 90 minutes of online and hands-on training.
Fourth-year medical student Nicholas Clough began administering COVID-19 vaccines to front-line health professionals last Wednesday. He has lost several family members during the pandemic.
“It finally felt like it was a real, tangible attack on COVID,” said Clough, 26.
The University of Wisconsin is offering a $ 500 student credit card to students with medical credentials working in understaffed hospitals during the winter break, including vaccine administration.
The university is also talking to officials about turning universities into vaccine distribution centers, a spokesman said.
In California, firefighters paramedics have been trained to administer the vaccine, first to employees.
“They have already received online training and want another hour of live training,” said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, who expected its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.
Michigan has set up a voluntary registry (here http://www.mivolunteerregistry.org) that allows officials and hospitals to recruit help to future vaccine clinics.
“We encourage all medical and nursing students to sign up now so they will be ready when their help is needed!” said a spokeswoman for the health department.
Other states do not actively recruit nursing students. A spokeswoman for Georgia’s health department said the state might do so later as the vaccine became more widely available to the public.
Subject to state licensing laws, medical and nursing students are allowed to administer vaccines, often under the supervision of a fully licensed professional.
The Association of Immunization Leaders, a nonprofit organization representing state and local health officials, faces a shortage of vaccinators and recommends regulating settlement or adjusting licensing requirements.
At least two states, Massachusetts and New York, have changed their laws in recent weeks to expand those eligible to give shots.
On December 13, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed students of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, podiatry, and midwives to administer flu and COVID-19 shots under supervision.