Today I had the honor and privilege of serving my community by administering the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
I volunteered to work today (Saturday) to join a group of 10 medical personnel (Dr. Molly Martin, nurses: Kelly, Kelsey, and Megan; MAs: Shawna, Liz, Heather, Natalie, and me; Diana [our Assistant Clinic Operations Manager], and Lauren), and plus so many others, to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to the 70+ age group 1b. We work for an amazing Tribe, the Jamestown S’Klallam, that had procured the vaccine ahead of the timeline for Washington State and graciously shared it with local communities. We gave some of our supply to NOHN (North Olympic Healthcare Network) so they could administer to the neighboring town.
Today’s event was the second in a series of planned mass vaccinations taking place in a local park. We set up six nursing stations under a large tent where two rows of three cars could pull up. The cars were instructed to stop, put the vehicle in park, turn the engine off, and wait for the nurse (or medical assistant) to come to their window to grab their consents. The first event had an unexpected mass turnout, we vaccinated 500 people, but the line was so long, it unfortunately resulted in 1,500 people being turned away. A lot of people voiced anger and frustration. King 5 covered the story here.
The volunteers playing traffic control were CERTs, Community Emergency Response Team, members from our community donating their time. I had an awesome woman volunteer on my side, she made sure to watch for potential hazards at all times, and even saved us a few times from being hit by cars! They did a wonderful job at helping us out, and we could not have done this without them. The whole community together, including the city workers (thanks, Rick!), police, EMTs, firefighters, radio dispatchers, Kelly, Brent Simcosky, Diana and Dianna, Molly Martin, DNP,ARNP, FNP-C, Dr. Paul Cunningham, Marcia, Shelly, (I’m sure I’m forgetting some key person, there were so many people involved!) and everyone was crucial to the smooth functioning of this event.
News articles about the vaccination events:
We certainly made the news!!!
On Thursday for the first vaccine event, this is what it looked like (normal traffic would be like maybe 3 cars and a tractor):
As I drove past the line on Thursday, I recorded this video.
The beginning of Saturday morning was hectic, I was running late as usual (I’m so sorry Diana!). I had forgotten how long it took to put on makeup, so I was about 10 minutes behind. The whole way my anxiety was maxed out, thinking of all the angry people complaining about missing out on the first round after being turned away. I wasn’t sure what we would face today. As I zoomed down the highway, I could see the flashing of the police lights at the first offramp from the highway bypass, the sort of checkpoint for directing people waiting for the vaccine. A little further down I could see flashing of the lights at the entrance to the park where the people waited in line.
Finally, I made it to work, and parked. I ran into the meeting and caught up quick as we all headed out to load up supplies into the vans. Together we carried boxes of supplies, sharps containers, gloves, vials of the vaccine and the equipment to keep them at temperature, and all the other necessities for a mass vaccination.
We climbed into the company vans and drove the short distance to the park. The volunteers directed us towards the coned route to the vaccine tent. The logo on the side of the car got us through the manned barriers, fortunately, as the volunteers were so eager to do a good job of protecting the area. And they really did.
Unloading went quickly with so many helpful hands. Kelly, an amazing nurse with incredible training and skills (she had worked with public health before coming to us), directed the entirety of the tent’s goings on. Being the leader of the vaccination tent, she had our station assignments all planned and oversaw the vital details of vaccine viability standards. The vaccine has to stay within a certain temperature range to be viable to administer to people. In the ambient Pacific Northwest winter air, temperatures can fluctuate so quickly, and the vaccine can’t be too cold, either. Molly Martin, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C devised an ingenious plan using heat lamps (she raises chickens!) and coolers with open tops. Keeping the lights at a certain distance, we could control the temperature to keep it within range. Digital and mercurial thermometers rested in the bottom to monitor. It worked perfectly.
I set up my station with a box of needles and syringes, alcohol wipes, and cotton balls on top of a clean sheet of scale paper for a workspace. A box of medium gloves (we ran out of medium at one point but I made due with smalls) and a sharps container sat behind everything. A cooler containing a box of multi-dose vials sat between each station. Before the cars started pulling up, I quickly went through the motions of the procedure I would follow to draw up the vaccine, just to get my muscle memory on board and to work out any kinks or problems in my process. It’s always good to figure things out or steps you may be missing BEFORE fumbling a vaccine administration into a human being. I figured out a basic workflow I would follow. Okay, I was as ready as I could be.
The volunteers motioned to the first cars to pull into the tent. As they pulled forward, we all began cheering and clapping at the commencement of such an awesome event. The people in the cars were just as excited as we were, joining in our jubilance. Some of them had spent the night in their cars in line, to make sure they could get a vaccine. I hadn’t felt this level of community excitement and happiness since pre-Covid. It really was a sight and a feeling to behold.
I was in charge of the third car on the left side. The cars could contain a couple, just one person, or four people; I wouldn’t know until they pulled up. In order to save time in the process, I sanitized my hands, and began assembling my needles and syringes as soon as I saw the next group of cars pull up. Each time, I walked up, accepted their signed consent forms, making sure appropriate boxes were checked, confirmed their names and arms they would prefer the injection in (which we would then note on the form so we could document it later), then returned to my work station to draw up 0.5 mL of the vaccine from the multi-dose vial. Each time, I again sanitized my hands, wiped the rubber top with an alcohol pad, carefully drew up the amount, and returned the vial to the controlled storage. After sanitizing my hands again, I donned gloves, half-stripped the Band-Aids and stuck them to the back of my gloved left hand for quick retrieval, grabbed the vaccine tray, and walked to the vehicle. A lot of hand sanitizing today.
The first few times I hadn’t quite perfected the part of my procedure of when to bring the vaccine with me and ended up making several trips back and forth, until my volunteer helpfully suggested I bring the vaccine tray with me and place it on the hood of the vehicle. Duh, it was so simple, why hadn’t I thought of it? I thanked her for her most helpful suggestion, as it saved me a significant amount of time.
Once back at the car, I wiped the patient’s upper arm with an alcohol pad, and said basically the same thing, “Okay, now I’m going to pinch your skin to distract the nerves,” grabbed their arm in my left hand, and squeezed a few times before poking. Nerves are funny that way. They can only talk about one thing at a time, so while they’re complaining about being squeezed, I stab, and the person won’t feel much, if anything. As I told them I was about to place their bandaid, they would reply in a happily shocked tone, “What?! You already did it?? I didn’t feel anything!” It was so satisfying and nice to surprise people with a pleasant experience when they were anticipating something horrific. I returned to my work station to doff the gloves, sanitize my hands, sanitize the vaccine tray, and begin the process again. Like I said, a lot of sanitizing.
This happened over and over and over, until I lost count. Car after car, I stabbed and I stabbed. I got my muscle memory in action and the day flowed smoothly.
Through this entire event, there were no mean people, no jerks, everyone was so appreciative and so grateful to be there to receive the vaccine. This was the complete opposite of what I had been expecting. Each person was so gracious and nice, I was so overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude. I made sure to thank them for being there, too, as we definitely could not have done it without the people showing up! I was surprised by how many asked if they could take my picture. Spouses handed each other their phones while I got ready to administer the vaccine, then they would trade as I walked to the other window to vaccinate the passenger. People drove through excitedly cheering in celebration. The energy of this whole event was so joyful and positive. I am absolutely humbled by this experience.
Jesse Major caught a bunch of awesome pictures of the event that you can check out here.
Because I wear glasses, wearing a mask can really make them fog up, especially when standing outside. Some genius figured out if you tape the top, it helps seal to prevent your own steamy breath from making your glasses look like that car’s windows in Titanic. I had to change my mask out a couple times because of all the moisture that collected. I felt like I had a terrarium attached to my face experiencing tropical storm inside.
One of the nurses, Lisa, was our designated “breaker” and would fill our spots so we could take breaks. A building a short walk away held a bathroom and a table covered with coffee, water, snacks, and cookies. It was nicely heated. Also being the radio command room, it was imperative to keep quiet so the emergency radio channel could be monitored. I got a little animated with my appreciation for their assistance, and had to be reminded to keep the level low. What can I say, I get excited. :cD
Lauren ran around collecting spent vials, filling up our dwindling supplies, she really helped out a lot. It allowed us to just focus on the task ahead instead of having to track things down ourselves.
In the background while I worked, I could hear my coworkers and friends saying the same cheerfully scripted schpeels we all were repeating. Music played in the tent. The song Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds played and we all began singing together, especially during the “la la la”s. The happy energy lifted us up and it felt like such a healing event. All the ugliness, all the fear, everything dissolved and a sense of symbiosis filled everyone under the tent; it felt like we were healing the community as the community healed us in return with their love and support. We all needed it so desperately.
As the stabbings progressed, the “good morning”s turned into “good afternoon”s. My back began to ache from leaning over the work station to draw up so I tried stretching between groups of cars. I didn’t mind it, it was worth the privilege to serve my community. Luckily I had the forethought to wear my compression stockings and leggings under my scrubs. I think I would have been quite miserable if I hadn’t.
After a while, I began hearing from the people coming through “not much longer!” and the end of the line was in sight. There were a few times where we had to pause the line to count the vaccine doses to make sure we had enough. Finally, it was nearly done.
The last few cars lined up. Our side had a short line and the other side’s pulled away from the tent as they cheered, “We finished first!” There has always been a friendly competition between all of us at the Jamestown Clinic, it’s something that kind of keeps us going and keeps our motivation up. We cheered back as the end of the line was directed to pull up to the empty side’s work station to get the final immunizations. We finished first! ;cP hehehe!
The last two cars pulled away and we cheered in celebration of our accomplishment. We had been there since about 8:30 am and finished up at nearly 1 pm. 600 doses in about 4 hours.
It was time to disassemble the work stations and pack up. So many hands made light work and it was all picked up. A lot of food was waiting for us, and we finally got the chance to eat. Boxed sandwiches filled the void.
Possibly the absolute coolest part of the whole event occurred as we concluded cleaning up. Two bald eagles soared overhead, flying west (I think? directionally-challenged over here, hehe). It seemed to be a good sign. Before I knew it, they were calling my name to climb into the van so we could head back to the clinic.
All the supplies were put away and all the consents were collected to now be entered into the state database, as is standard for any immunization from the flu shot to the tetanus vaccine. Those of us who could stay split the stack and began the tedious yet vitally important task of data entry. It was a nice transition from standing outside all day. In no time, we as a team got all the vaccine administrations logged and it was officially quitting time.
I drove home and parked. All the overwhelming beauty of the event, the appreciativeness from the patients, the members of our community, it all finally had time to catch up with me. I sat in my truck, and cried, at long last releasing the buildup of emotion.
As I sit here and type this, I feel the ache in my back and am glad for it. These tears that now fall are from the generous, overwhelming gratitude we were given by our city’s residents. This was a labor of love, love for my community and love for what I do. I am so proud of my coworkers and so honored to be part of such a generous organization. Through Jamestown, I got to help and give back my town, the place I was born and raised. I feel like I got to see the true side of my community, as well; this loving, heartfelt, cohesive network of people: Sequim. It was an incredible experience and I am changed by it.
So no, my community, thank you. ❤