Volunteers help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution at UT-Austin

Kevin Vu

UT Health Austin will need more clinical volunteers to help with COVID-19 vaccination efforts since Texas announced all adults will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting Monday. 

Stephanie Morgan, a clinical nursing professor who oversees the day-to-day operations of COVID-19 vaccination at the Gregory Gym, said anyone interested can volunteer, but only volunteers performing clinical tasks are currently needed. 

“I will need more vaccinators, and I will need more people to prepare the medication to be administered. There’s no doubt about that,” Morgan said. “Most of all of this effort that’s done for vaccinations (is) based on volunteers. There is no funding source to pay people to do this.” 

Bex Vasquez, associate director of special initiatives at Dell Medical School, said volunteers usually reach out via email to show their interest in volunteering. Those interested in working as a clinical volunteer are reviewed by a team to ensure they have clinical experience. Once approved, they go through training, and then sign up for a volunteer time through a SignUpGenius link, Vasquez said. 

Vasquez said she is in the final stages of creating a general request form for all volunteers to simplify the process of gathering and managing the requests.  

“It’s been very difficult to funnel all of those requests that are coming in from every direction,” Vasquez said. 

Volunteers have contributed to the vaccination efforts since UT began vaccinating people against COVID-19 on Dec. 15. Morgan said volunteers are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine on their first shift, since they qualify as frontline workers. 

Each day, around 28 volunteers perform clinical tasks, such as administering the shot and navigating traffic for nearly 2,000 people, Morgan said.

Jeff Wagner, a UT Medical Reserve Corps operations lead, works as a navigator and guides the flow of people in and out of Gregory Gym.  

Wagner said he received both doses of his Pfizer vaccine as a volunteer.

“(Receiving the vaccine) just gives me that much more confidence working with the public,” Wagner said. “It also makes me feel a sense of responsibility to continue coming back and continuing to assist getting everybody healthy.”

Biochemistry junior Joseph Reitman said he volunteers several times a week and learned about the opportunity through Longhorn EMS. 

As a clinical volunteer, Reitman said he is tasked with mixing the vaccine and giving shots to patients. He said he administers anywhere from six to 12 shots an hour, depending on how busy the site is.

“This is one of the first volunteering things where I really felt like I made an impact,” Reitman said. “I see a lot of people that are coming, especially when we’re vaccinating more elderly people, who have just been locked at home for a year. So, (giving) people that opportunity to actually go back to a normal life is really what kind of spoke to me.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 26 issue of The Daily Texan.